Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Around Oz Part 32 – Cape Arid: Eye-balling Whales and Wildflowers Ablaze, but no Ground Parrot

Western (Rufous) Fieldwren
Following our stay in the WA south coast town of Esperance (see last post) we headed east 120 km to Cape Arid National Park, a vast wilderness of heathlands, shrubby woodlands and rugged coastline. Cape Arid is the eastern-most distributional limit of many south-west WA animals and plants, notably the endangered Western Ground Parrot, which of course I intended to search for.

Cape Arid
Cape Arid Coastline
I had been advised by the Albany regional office of National Parks to camp near the mouth of Thomas River because our vehicle, towing a camper trailer, would not be able to reach the camping ground at Seal Creek. My Subaru is all-wheel, not 4-wheel, and I was told that road conditions to reach Seal Creek required 4-wheel. This was a shame because Seal Creek is much closer to Poison Creek Road - the main area for the Western Ground Parrot – and I would have been able to listen for the birds at dusk and dawn, therefore being able to possibly pinpoint their whereabouts. (Thomas River, much closer to Esperance, is a long drive of 55km along dirt roads to the area.)  As I learned later, this advice was rubbish. We could easily have been able to get to Seal Creek on roads that were quite good. I mention this for the benefit of anyone wanting to go there looking for the bird. (By contrast, the people in the Esperance office of National Parks were very helpful.) 

There is the option of two camping grounds at Thomas River - one run by National Parks and one by the local Shire. We opted for the National Parks one because of its abundance of flowering banksia, with the potential for seeing Honey Possum (none were seen). There were loads of honeyeaters about, mainly New Holland Honeyeater and Western Wattlebird - the latter far more common here than further west – and a few Western Spinebills.

New Holland Honeyeater & Banksia
We left early on our first morning to drive to Poison Creek Road, which runs south to Seal Creek through a large area of low heathland. I had been given details for two sites where birds were seen or heard recently and found the sites easily enough. Despite several hours of trudging through the heath, however, no parrots were flushed. Compared to Eastern Ground Parrot habitat in Queensland, the heath here was quite low and open – relatively easy to walk through.

Moi in Poison Creek Road heath 
It was the proverbial needle in the haystack – a total of 120 parrots living over such a large area; I had no real expectations, but it’s worth a shot. 

Lots of wildflowers but no parrots - Poison Creek Road heathland
The wildflowers put on a superb show. This is the first site on our trip, other than the mulga lands much further north, where the flowers were in full display with their dazzling array of colours and forms.

It was nice to see plenty of Rufous (Western) Fieldwrens in the heath; I had previously had only poor views earlier in the trip near Cervantes. This was the commonest bird species in the heath, followed closely by Tawny-crowned Honeyeater. A Wedge-tailed Eagle provided surprisingly tame while a Spotted Harrier flew over.

Tawny-crowned Honeyeater

Wedge-tailed Eagle

Western (Rufous) Fieldwren
On the way back, several Shinglebacks were crossing the road. Other herps seen in the area included Carpet Snake and a dragon, a monitor, a gecko and a frog - all to be identified when I get home.

Dragon - Cape Arid

Frog - Cape Arid

Gecko - Cape Arid

Shingleback
Other birds about the camping ground included Rock Parrot, White-browed (Spotted) Scrubwren, Shining Bronze-Cuckoo and Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo.

Horsfield's Bronze Cuckoo

Rock Parrot

White-browed (Spotted) Scrubwren
On our second morning, we checked out some of the local walking tracks, including to Belinup Hill and Dolphin Cove. The highlight was a female Southern Right Whale with her calf at Dolphin Cove, just off the rocks. These majestic, huge animals were less than 50 metres from us they swam about, the youngster clearly more interested in a frolic than its mother. On one occasion, the calf swam towards the beach shore near the rocks; the adult quickly herded it back into deeper water. We could see the calf suckling at one point.


Southern Right Whale - calf can be seen suckling in this image

Adult female Southern Right Whale
We returned to the cove in the afternoon and the two whales were in the same spot. They had been joined by a second adult.

Southern Right Whale - mother and calf
Southern Right Whale - mother and calf


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Around Oz Part 31 - Esperance: Hooded Plover, Cape Barren Goose, Black-faced Cormorant & More Great Coastline

Hooded Plover
Following our visit to Cheyne Beach (see following two posts) we had three nights in the picturesque coastal town of Esperance, staying at the oddly named Bathers Paradise Caravan Park.

Hooded Plover
I found about 30 Hooded Plovers on the eastern shore Lake Warden, on the northern outskirts of Esperance. Lake Warden and the adjacent Pink Lake are known refuges for this threatened species. Despite having searched numerous beaches in the south-west up of WA up to now, this was my first encounter with Hooded Plover. I am told that in south-west WA, the species is more closely associated with wetlands than in south-east Australia, where it is essentially a beach bird.

Pink Lake
Hooded Plover juvenile
Cape Barren Goose
On the green of the Esperance Golf Course, I found a pair of Cape Barren Geese. The geese visit the Esperance area from their breeding islands in the Recherche Archipelago, an impressive series of granite islands not far offshore from the town.
Cape Barren Goose
The golf club is proud of their geese, although it took me quite a while to find this pair and no others were seen.

Golf Club entrance
Recherche Archipelago
Black-faced Cormorant
On a jetty near the Esperance CBD, I found a Black-faced Cormorant in the company of a Pied Cormorant and several Little Pied Cormorants.
We have found Esperance to be a delightful destination. It has an abundance of lovely coastal beaches with the archipelago as a stunning backdrop. We have also been taken aback by how cheap the place is. For instance, we paid $11 each for a rump steak with salad; at Pine Creek in the NT we paid $35 for the same meal and it was considerably smaller.

Pied, Black-faced & Little Pied Cormorants
Twilight Beach, Esperance
 There is a very worthwhile 40km scenic drive which takes you around the shore of Pink Lake and along the coast, where you can check out numerous beaches and headlands. An abundance of wildflowers, probably the most prolific on our trip to date, added to our experience.

Wildflowers - Chapmans Point

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Around Oz Part 30 - Pygmy Possum & a Showy Western Whipbird: Late Gifts from Cheyne Beach


I posted my report from Cheyne Beach on the south coast of WA (see here) last night, not expecting any unexpected surprises in the short time I had this morning before we had to leave. How wrong I was. We had the eerie experience late last night of hearing Southern Right Whales blowing quite loudly, although the sea is about 300 metres away.

Western Whipbird
I began by unsuccessfully searching flowering banksias at dawn for Honey Possums. Then I returned to the tracks between the caravan park and the beach (see first post). I heard a single Noisy Scrubbird, then a pair of Western Whipbirds. One of the whipbirds obliged by hopping onto a bush and singing for a few seconds - enough for a quick snap. This bird is extremely cryptic and my earlier views had been brief.

I had searched flowering eucalypt blossums at night for Western Pygmy Possum without success. The caravan park owner's wife had told me they sometimes nested in the camp site power boxes. I checked every one of them - and it is a big park  but no luck.

As we were leaving, I chatted to the caravan park owner, who asked me how the birding had gone. I told him I'd done very nicely with the birds but would have loved to have seen Honey Possum and Western Pygmy Possum, both of which I knew occurred in the area. He told me that one of the caravan owners and set up nest tubes for the possums outside his van because they had become a nuisance, building nests inside his abode; the van owner thought they'd leave his van alone if he built something for them to sleep in. The 15cm-wide PVC tubes had end caps and holes drilled in the sides for the possums to enter. The park owner told me where to go (he said he had no idea if they were occupied) and I was off.

Possum nest tubes
The first cap I removed revealed one of the cutest animals I had seen, curled up tightly in a nest of eucalypt leaves at the tube entrance - a Western Pygmy Possum!

Western Pygmy Possum
I'd not seen a pygmy possum of any species before and had long desired very much to do so. The disturbed possum moved to the far end of the tube as I carefully removed its nest. We eyeballed each other for a few minutes - me more godsmacked that it I suspect - before I replaced the nest and the the tube cap, leaving the gorgeous little animal in peace.

Western Pygmy Possum
All up, a most satisfactory morning.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Around Oz Part 29 – Albany and Cheyne Beach: Noisy Scrubbird, Western Whipbird, Western Bristlebird, Southern Right Whale

Western Bristlebird
After our visit to the Walpole-Nornalup area (see following post) we continued east to the WA south coast port city of Albany, where we had a couple of nights in the very nice Emu Park Tourist Park, right by the sea with lots of bush around. I was surprised to see that Red-capped Parrot was common and tame, after the bird was so elusive during our earlier visit to Dryandra Woodland.


Red-capped Parrot

Red-capped Parrot

Emu Point, Albany
We had a full day out in the Albany area. Just down the road at Lake Seppings, there were 200+ Blue-billed Ducks and quite a few Musk Ducks.

Musk Duck female
We were impressed by a tour we did of the old whaling station – whaling ended in Australia when this place in King George Sound shut down in 1978. We visited various parts of Torndirrup National Park including The Gap, The Bowholes, Newell’s Harbour and Salmon Holes. More fabulous coastal scenery - as if we  haven’t had enough of it.

Glenn with (Pygmy) Blue Whale skeleton, old Albany whaling station

Newel'sl Harbour, Torndirrup National Park near Albany
We headed east 60km to Cheyne Beach for a three-night stay in the caravan park. This site is well-known as being particularly good for three of Australia’s more difficult birds – Western Whipbird, Western Bristlebird and Noisy Scrubbird. I have seen all three previously, but not this race of the whipbird, and would like another look at all three.

Cheyne Beach
We were pleased to see plenty of wildflowers in the coastal heath, although we’re a little early for the full show. It’s a lovely setting with a pure white, sandy beach and turquoise sea sweeping eastwards.


Scarlet Banksia - Cheyne Beach

Wildflower Cheyne Beach
Wildflower Cheyne Beach
 We saw Carnaby’s Cockatoos on the way in. There are plenty of Brush Bronzewings about the hamlet of Cheyne Beach. Around the caravan park are White-breasted Robin, Splendid Fairy-wren, Western Spinebill, Western White-naped Honeyeater and White-browed Scrubwren.

Brush Bronzewing
During our first stroll we had magnificent views of a Southern Right Whale and her calf not more than 100 metres or so offshore, just beyond the waves breaking; they were so close we initially thought they were stranded. A dead Barn Owl was found near the beach. In the evenings from our camper van, we can hear the whales sprouting in the sea nearby.

Southern Right Whale

Southern Right Whale
On the first afternoon I walked the 4-wheel drive track that heads south of the caravan park for about 1.5km. Towards the end of the track I heard Noisy Scrubbird and Western Bristlebird. I had superb views of a Western Bristlebird about half way along on the way back and saw a second briefly, with a third bird heard. I also Tawny-crowned Honeyeater, Red-winged Fairy-wren and Southern Emu-wren.

Heathlands of Arpenteur Nature Reserve, Cheyne Beach
My first morning was centred on the track area between the caravan park and beach – the site renowned for Noisy Scrubbird. Three scrubbirds were vocalising at different sites and I saw one bird briefly. I also had excellent if brief views of a Western Whipbird, which was calling; one Western Bristlebird was calling. Later we walked the circuit track via Back Beach. Loads more wildflowers; another Southern Right Whale; and our first Western Wattlebird of the trip. Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and Flesh-footed Shearwater were seen offshore.

Western Wattlebird
 Seeing the wattlebird means I have seen all the south-west WA endemic species and subspecies on this trip – with the exception of Western Ground Parrot - along with those species that have the region as their main centre of distribution.

Western Bristlebird tracks
We also saw plenty of cat and fox tracks on the sandy tracks, along with bristlebird foot tracks.

On the second afternoon, I hiked to Channel Point, east of the caravan park. I heard a Western Whipbird and a Noisy Scrubbird towards the end of the track and saw a Red-eared Firetail. Coming back I heard a Noisy Scrubbird not far from the caravan park, and saw my second Western Bristlebird; another bristlebird was heard further up the track.

Western Bristlebird
On my second morning, I again walked the track south from the caravan park that I walked the first afternoon. I tracked down a Noisy Scrubbird not far from the park and had three brief but close views. I heard two more scrubbirds further on, where the track levels out along a ridge with plenty of rocks about. I heard Western Whipbird calling twice and saw two other birds briefly, one crossing the track and one in flight in the heath. I saw a total of 6 Western Bristlebirds, hearing about 12 others. A very productive morning; at one point I had bristlebird, scrubbird and whipbird calling at the same spot (among the rocks along the ridge). Southern Emu-wren was also seen again.

Site where  bristlebird, scrubbird, whipbird recorded
On our last afternoon we drove to the mouth of the Waychinicup River and Mt Many Peaks. The river is quite unique in that it is totally exposed to the Southern Ocean, so every wave movement causes a rush of water up the river (that is usually not possible due to a build-up of sandbars at river mouths). I heard Western Whipbird and Western Scrubbird here - 1 of each - this was early afternoon, so I suspect this might be a very good site for both species. There was a camping ground here I was not aware of. Swamp Harrier and Brown Quail were added to the list.

Mt Many Peaks

Waychinicup River mouth

In the late afternoon,on the tracks between the caravan park and the beach, I heard a single Noisy Scrubird and a pair of Western Whipbirds.
Regarding the three WA endemic skulkers, being careful to avoid double-counting, I saw 2 Noisy Scrubbirds, both calling, and heard 6 others (8 total recorded). I saw 4 Western Whipbirds, 2 of them calling, and heard 4 others (8 total). I saw 6 Western Bristlebirds, and heard 12 others (18 total).

POSTSCRIPT

After posting this I photographed a Western Whipbird and found a Western Pygmy Possum - see here.