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, April 19, 2012

The Big Year

Most birders have by now probably seen the movie, The Big Year, released officially in November in Australia. Some saw it earlier on airline flights and some may have obtained 'copies' on the internet, as many people now do unfortunately. The reason I say unfortunately, as in this case the movie was a flop and lost millions of dollars, money that won't be partially recovered from DVD sales, due to the many illegal copies out there. This I think will result in Hollywood saying, never make a 'birder' movie again!

This would be a shame, as I think it was a good movie and one that grows on you the more you watch it. This is the reason for this blog post, having watched it again recently, I enjoyed the movie even more and think it's one of those in our collection that we will be able to watch over and over again.

The original story came from the book by Mark Obmascik, if you want to read the outline of the story from the book, please see the review at Booklog of the Bristol Library. Of course Hollywood changed the names and some of the story, but as the review said, 'the spirit remained true'.

I think one of the reason the movie didn't rate very well with the general public, is the video trailer shows it as a comedy, as well as having the three big stars, Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson, you would expect some type of slapstick comedy. The movie does have comedy, but often it's subtle and the film tends to focus on relationships, competition and the costs of obsessive birding.

I think the other reason the movie wasn't 'a hit' was, well it's about birding! To us birders a lot of what occurs in the movie is fairly normal to what we do, but to the general public (and most of our friends) it's just weird. Birders are generally viewed as only one notch above train-spotters!

I'd say if you haven't seen it yet, go see it, or if you have, watch it again sometime. No, I have no shares in the movie or vested interests. I just think it's a shame that many birders and others have knocked the movie, a movie that finally give a view to outsiders of the fun and passion many of us birders have!

For more info, see The Big Year on Wikipedia.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Neale Junction - An Easter Parrot Hunt

Last October Liz and I tried to get out to Neale Junction in the Great Victoria Desert, but unseasonal storms and rain made it unwise to try and travel that far out into the desert. If only we had luck on our side, we would had made it there to see an unusual abundance of rare and hard to find desert-loving Princess and Scarlet-chested Parrots! Now it was Easter 2012 and with our friends Rob and Bel, we decided it was time for another attempt.

First night's stop was the old Goongarrie Homestead north of Kalgoorlie, a place we had often driven past, but never visited. It turned out to be a great place to stay, except for the swarms of hungry mosquitoes that plagued us as soon as the sun began to set! It's a good birding area that we will hopefully visit one spring, especially after seeing Chestnut Quail-thrushes running around on the entrance road.

Next night we had camped at Point Sunday and explored the surrounding area hoping to maybe see the parrots, but no, compared to last October the area was quiet. Lots of White-fronted and Grey-fronted Honeyeaters, but no vast flocks of Budgerigars or Masked Woodswallows from last time, even though the woodlands looked very healthy from recent rains.

We began our journey along the 'Anne Beadell Highway', the rocky and often sandy track leading to Neale Junction. A good lunch spot was this interesting rock outcrop, about half way along the 'Highway'.

When conditions had been wetter, the Fairy Martins had been busy building their little colony of mud bottle nests.

Finally near the famous Neale Junction, the sign at the western entrance to the nature reserve. Rob, Bel and myself, happy that after the long hard drive we are near the camping area for the night. We are also happy due to having great views of a party of beautiful Rufous-crowned Emu-wrens shortly before.

Hmmmmmmm? The Neale Junction camping area was a little uninspiring, especially due to the armies of small black ants that covered the area. Having our swags on the ground, I spent half the night knocking the ants off my face, who have a bad tendency to become really aggressive and bite if any of their number get hurt!

We searched the surrounding area in the morning, but alas, due to a strong cool westerly wind, the conditions were not the best and no parrots were seen or heard. It seems that the large numbers of Princess and Scarlet-chested Parrots (last recorded in Janurary) had moved to other locations.

Men and their machines! Rob with his new Suzuki Vitara and me with the beasty Troopy. The Suzuki might look like a toy, but was a very capable small four wheel drive.

Time for some photos at the actual cross-roads of Neale Junction, the Anne Beadell heading east-west and the Connie Sue heading north-south.

Signing the visitors book at the junction. It seems there was usually someone passing through at least once a week over the last few months, but still a long time to wait if you broke down in this remote area.

Before heading back to Point Sunday, we searched for the parrots northwards along the Connie Sue Highway, but again no luck. Time to head back!

Back at Point Sunday camp and again after searching the surrounding areas, no luck. I'm sitting in my chair and having a beer (and a little cry) and wondering how many parrots we may have seen if we made it last October! Oh well, we did get 55 bird species for the trip, plus two new birds for our Australian life list. I'm sure we will be back out here again, as soon as we hear of new parrot sightings.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Pelagic Birding - The Results

First a thanks to all the people wishing me well, and no I wasn't sick. The tablets, salty chips and bread stick worked a treat!

My wife Liz and everyone else are ready to go birding, but no boat! It was almost a non-event, due to the deckhand who had the boat keys and probably had a long wild night before and just wanted to sleep, but he was finally contacted and eventually turned up with the boat.

The weather was windy with a few showers and a 2 metre seas and swell. Not a bad day for a boat trip west of Rottnest towards the Rottnest trench.

The official pelagic list from the Western Australia Recent Bird Sightings was:

Streaked Shearwater (40+)

Flesh-footed Shearwater (50+)

Wedge-tailed Shearwater (10)

Hutton's Shearwater (12)

Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross (1)

Great-winged Petrel (15)

Soft-plumaged Petrel (1)

Wilson's Storm-petrel (12)

Brown Skua (4)

Arctic Skua (1)

Bridled Tern (4)
The most interesting birds sighted were the large numbers of Streaked Shearwaters, not usually known to occur in Perth waters, especially in such numbers. Were they pushed down by a recent cyclone or is this a regular event? Another pelagic trip in April next year is planned to find out.