AUSTRALIAN PAINTED SNIPE

 

 

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greater painted snipe – Bing images     australian painted snipe – Bing images

Fay and I share an enduring recollection of our “first” Australian Painted Snipe Rostratula australia.  It was November 2012 and the pair captured in our telescope were not only our first record for the South Burnett region but technically the first Australian Painted Snipe we had ever sighted; the previous five, all within Queensland, had been listed as a subspecies of the Greater Painted Snipe Rostratula benghalensis australis.

It was not until 2000 that the “Australian” was split from the “Greater”.  In that year, Lane & Rogers [Stilt. 36:26-34] suggested treating the australis subspecies as a full species based on its “distinctive appearance, call, measurements and anatomy.”  More recent research indicates that the Australian Painted Snipe diverged from the benghalensis some 19 million years ago!  It is Australia’s only member of the Rostratula genus [del Hoya et al. 1996].

However, by then, it was almost already too late.  Since the 1950s, in spite of increased observer numbers, reporting rates have declined by some 90% [Rogers et al., 2003].

 A rather stocky wading bird, some 220–250 mm in length with a long pinkish bill it is readily identified: the adult female has a chestnut-black hood, white eye patch, a crown stripe, curved white collar and black, green, grey and buff patterns above [Simpson & Day, 1996]; the male is similar but smaller, duller, with minor colouration differences [pers. obs.].

Its fate lies primarily in its habitat.  The Australian Painted Snipe is a creature of shallow, terrestrial, freshwater wetlands [DoE, 2015).

It is estimated that since European settlement approximately 50% of Australia’s wetlands have disappeared, more in some regions of the country.  The two dominant causes of this sharp decline are attributed to the drainage of wetlands and the diversion of water to agriculture and reservoirs, the latter process reducing flooding and precluding the formation of temporary shallow wetlands (Garnett & Crowley 2000].

In 2001, the Threatened Bird Network and Australasian Wader Studies Group initiated a project aimed at improving our knowledge of the Australian Painted Snipe to enable the development of meaningful conservation plans (Rogers et al. 2005).

Foremost among the proposals is the development of an extensive database and it is within this sphere that many of us can contribute. By submitting all our own sightings of Australian Painted Snipe we can play an important part in maintaining and developing that established database.

Julian Bielewicz

28.04.2015

 

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GLORIOUS MORNING at ALLEN ROAD

I remain a humble Pom at heart [aside: for those overseas readers who may be unfamiliar with the term, Pom is an endearing term often used by Australians when referring to those of us who arrived in this country from England].  I find it difficult to resist a wry smile when I listen to the natives, particularly those enamoured of Queensland [the Sunshine State], wax lyrically that this is “God’s own.”  More often than not these sentiments are expressed when the ambient temperature is searing in the high thirties to mid-forties, with humidity at 100% or better.  No wonder God chose the Middle East rather than Outback Australia as the earthbound home of His only begotton son!

This past Sunday however, we did experience a truly glorious morning.  The temperature never moved above 15 Celsius; there was a crispness to the air that invigorated not only the lungs but the entire spirit.  A slight mist came up from nearby watercourses setting an eerie tone to the immediate surroundings.

Admittedly the early part of the morning was not the best for birding, vision was limited to perhaps ten metres all around.  On the other hand, where visual impressions were perhaps curtailed, aural perceptions seemed correspondingly enhanced.

In those pre-dawn hours before first light filtered through we could hear the distinctive call of the Southern Boobook Ninox novaeseelandiae [an owl of the Strigiformes], accompanied by the deep boom of the Tawny Frogmouth Podargus strigoides [a nightjar of the Caprimulgiformes].

Oddly enough the next call we heard, at 0555 hours [70 minutes prior to official sunrise that day] was the rather plaintive call of the Australian Wood [Maned] Duck Chenonetta jubata, followed a few minutes later by the somewhat harsh alarm call of the Masked Lapwing Vanellus miles.

The Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae, often the earliest herald of the dawn, was late that morning; its initial call coming only 42 minutes before sunrise rather than its more customary 50+ minutes prior to daybreak.   Almost invariably it was followed by the truly melodic song of the Australian Magpie Cracticus tibicen.

By 0546 hours, still nineteen minutes before sunrise, the Yellow-faced Honeyeater Lichenostomus chrysops announced its presence.  This honeyeater has featured almost regularly over the past week as part of the “Dawn Chorus”.  To gauge the significance of this bird please note my earlier blog, Reflections on Some Honeyeater.

At 0554 hours the White-winged Choughs Corcorax melanorhamphos announced their arrival at the southern feeder, followed two minutes later by the raucous Apostlebirds Struthidea cinerea and finally, at 0557 hours [eight minutes before the time set for sunrise that day] a solitary Australian King-Parrot Alisterus scapularis added its sultry tones to the mounting cacophony around us.

That amounted to eighteen species from the first call of the Boobook to daybreak – and all mostly tallied while Fay and I lay in bed enjoying the first cup of tea for the day.  Almost all.  The earliest birds were down to me and my diabetic insomnia.

With daylight abroad came the Magpie-lark Grallina cyanoleuca and the endearing Willie Wagtail Rhipidura leucophrys.  The Common Bronzewing Phaps chalcoptera, Variegated Fairy-wren Malurus lamberti and Little Lorikeet Glossopsitta pusilla added to the morning’s total.  Sometime during the mid-morning, with temperatures still well below 20C, the White-browed Scrubwren Sericornis frontalis [see Missing in Action] and Striped Honeyeater Plectorhyncha lanceolata began flexing their vocal muscles.

From somewhere far off to the east Fay, whose hearing is far superior to mine, heard a Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformis, a rarity at this time of the year; a little later the Eastern Whipbird Psophodes olivaceus was heard and finally, as we strolled around the dam we spotted a single White-faced Heron Egretta novaehollandiae perched high in a tall gum overlooking the water.  It was around 10.30am, the temperature a little above 15C and a long list of chores awaited our attention but it had been a glorious morning for birds with a final tally of 36 species before we laid aside binoculars and notebook.

Try that while sweltering under a blazing sun with the mercury already in the mid to high 20s by mid-morning!

Julian Bielewic

11.04.2011

 

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EARLY RISERS

Our residence in Allen Road has a history dating back to April 2001 when we initially inspected the vacant block [the tin shed was empty at the time].  The house, from a Toowoomba “house yard,” was moved in situ the following year; weekends were fully occupied in renovating, first the exterior, later the interior.  In March 2005 Fay left her position with QML [after more than 20 years with the company] to take up employment with a small research company attached to PCA in Kingaroy.  I sough, and was granted, a teaching transfer into the region at the end of 2005.  The renovations to the house and improvements to the property in general continued, still continue to this day.

The Backyard List starts from that first cursory inspection back on 13 April 2001.  In those early days, when we still lived in Redcliffe and merely visited on every second or third weekend –and that, after all, was the original purpose of the property, a place to which we could escape when the inclination came- we recorded the birds for the sheer pleasure of learning which species we had as permanent residents, as seasonal migrants or as accidental occurrences.  Those early data entries are basic presence/absence records.

They evolved to include numbers present, behaviours noted, etc.  No doubt one day Fay and I will collate the growing mass of data, design a few pertinent graphs to highlight the major trends and perhaps even offer the resulting mass for publication.  Bird Journal makes the earlier processes much simpler these days.

In more recent times, while the steady accumulation of data for its own sake continues, Fay and I have come to recording the early morning avian risers.  Not the songs themselves [we don’t have the equipment to venture along that path] but the actual species involved in our local Dawn Chorus.

If you asked the average Australian, birder or non-birder, to venture a guess as to which species would be “Top of the Dawn Chorus Pops,” I’d be more than mildly surprised if the over-whelming response was anything other than Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae.   Many of the Indigenous peoples of Australia share the same Dreamtime tale of how the Spirits, having discovered the wonder of sunrise, asked Kookaburra if he would herald its arrival each morning so that all the creatures could enjoy this phenomenon.

And, of course, within certain caveats, they are all right.  On average, over the space of a year, the Laughing Kookaburra is almost invariable the earliest precursor of dawn.  Almost always… but not quite always.

It is, on occasions, bettered by other species.  The Masked lapwing Vanellus miles springs immediately to mind.  The Maned Duck [still referred to by many as the Australian Wood Duck] Chenonetta jubata is another serious contender for the title of Early Bird Champion.  The humble Australian Magpie Cracticus tibicen and Torresian Crow Corvus orru have been known to call before old kookaburra stirred from his slumbers.  Even the diminutive Willie Wagtail Rhipidura leucophrys was once heard well before the official setting for sunrise, albeit from across the other side of Allen Road where neighbours were holding an all-night party.  The Pied Currawong Strepera graculina was among the first early risers recorded to have ousted the Laughing Kookaburra from it near unassailable throne.

On at least two occasions in January this year alone the Common Bronzewing Phaps chalcoptera has pipped them all to the post.  The Pacific Koel Eudynamys orientalis, a summer migrant, has been recorded as the earliest caller on at least one occasion in the past couple of years.

Yet, in spite of all these excepti0ns to the case, as already stated, in general, at least along Allen Road, the Laughing Kookaburra can often call several times prior to any other bird acknowledging the advent of dawn.

Julian Bielewicz

ALL QUIET ON THE ALLEN ROAD FRONT

 

 Overall aerial view of Allen Road.  To the right [east] is the Nanango-Maidenwell Road.  The fainter line to the left [west] is Andrew Road.  The house can be seen at the approximate centre.  The circle towards the bottom [south] is the dam.  The blue line denotes the extensive area of Casuarinas. 

All told, it’s been a rather quiet birding time along Allen Road.    Matters have not been helped by our inability to do our usual walk, either up towards the Nanango-Maidenwell Road junction or down to Andrew Road.  Having a tree, well, a substantial main branch at least, suddenly fall across the Orchard/Middle Compound fence tends to rather preoccupy one’s attention… all the more when the chainsaw fuel line decides to rupture part way through the task!

We continue our early morning birding, sitting in bed, both windows ajar [thank goodness for mosquito mesh], cup of tea in hand, listening to the growing crescendo of the Dawn Chorus.  At weekends we do actually record these precursors to sunrise; during the working week we simply enjoy the various symphonies on offer.

 

Allen Road looking east to the Nanango-Maidenwell Road.

Earlier in the week, Wednesday 9 March, Fay did note a handful of White-throated Needletails Hirundapus caudacutus overhead at the Allen/Andrew Road corner.  They are often seen as portents of forthcoming storms.  A minor rainstorm hit us on Sunday.

On returning from visiting our [non-birding] son [see the recent post at Birding the South Burnett] on Saturday, I drove a little further than normal past the gate, to allow for the trailer.  I spotted a black bird in a low growing Casuarina, perhaps four metres to the west of the track.  My initial reaction was to dismiss it as just another crow but immediately realized that the entire topographical jizz was wrong for crow.  When I heard the soft crunch of large bill chew a Casuarina seed I knew the Glossy Black-Cockatoos, the darlings of our Backyard List, were back.  Indeed, on closer examination we noted a pair of these beauties.

Allen Road looking west towards Andrew Road.

It was too tempting.  We alighted and searched the area until we gained better views of the pair.  I got in a couple of very poor shots [failing light remains my only excuse] before the bird flew off to the north.

We’d no sooner got back into the car than Fay spotted the Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus perched on a branch of the dead tree overhanging the track.  We had written it off a while back as just another migratory species that had returned to its alternative residency.  Perhaps when I have eventually transcribed all our handwritten notes onto computer I’ll be in a position to put together a paper on the local comings and goings of this little gem.

Sacred Kingfisher

Other than these highlights the past week at Allen Road has been rather quiet- and science conferences will keep me away for the next two Saturdays!

Julian Bielewicz

15.01.2017

 

 

 

 

BATTLING BUTCHERBIRDS

As I may have said on a few previous occasions, there is one clear advantage of having your own “backyard” patch, a place you either visit regularly or, and some could argue better still, the place you actually live in.  Allen Road comes into the latter category.  Each day’s birding inevitably starts out as a list of birds Fay and I can hear while still lying in bed enjoying the morning’s first cup of tea.  I often get to see the first bird while making the tea – yes, I’m old-fashioned enough!

In birding your own local patch you soon become familiar with the regular birds of that patch.  You get to know them almost as individuals; indeed, I know some my local birds better than I know some of my neighbours along Allen Road.

Take the two species of butcherbirds, part of the Artamidae family available in this neck of the woods; we have both the Grey Cracticus torquatus and the Pied Butcherbird C. nigrogularis present as residents.  However, the former is a daily visitor to our verandahs in search of titbits of cheese or simply using the verandah roof as shelter from more inclement weather while the Pied is, with one notable exception, a bird that we only hear from our property although it is often encountered on our walks along Allen Road.

It has become a regular routine.  Our third cup of tea [well, perhaps a few more cups during the shorter, colder mornings of winter] we have on an old miner’s couch on the east verandah.  Almost invariably, within minutes of settling down, one or the other of the Grey Butcherbirds, usually the male –you can differentiate between the sexes when both are sitting a metre of less from you- arrives to perch on the top rail.  It never makes a sound; it simply sits there looking at us.  One or the other of us gets up to cut up the cheese, usually tasty cheddar [for those interested in the piddling minutia].  We toss bits of cheese into the air and enjoy the spectacle of the butcherbirds’ aerial acrobatics as they snatch the morsels from mid air.

In contrast, the Pied Butcherbird, a much larger species, with the one aforementioned exception, has only ever been recorded as “heard only” on our property bird records.  We simply don’t expect to see it until our winter weekend or summer evening walks along the road.

That is until the other day.  The weather was abysmal.  It was cold, ground temperatures plumbing perilously close to zero.  It had rained heavily overnight, bringing back memories of last January when Fay and I became isolated on our own property for three days. The morning light was impossible.  All was gloom and climatic doom.

As we sat with that welcome cup of tea the male Grey Butcherbird suddenly alighted on the top rail of the east verandah; we could see its mate perched in the nearby angophora.  The normal routine ensued.  I tossed the male a piece of cheese and then leaned over the rail to toss a piece towards the female in the tree.  She never stood a chance.  In a flash the cheese was snatched in mid air by a Pied Butcherbird, a much larger close cousin, which clearly had been waiting on the roof.  Fay and I were stunned.

Apart from the exceptional agility displayed by the bird, how had the Pied learnt that this was the local Café Avian?  It had never previously sought additional food supplements from us.  I tossed a second piece to the male Grey and again tossed a piece towards the female in the tree.  The Pied intercepted it.

This continued for several throws until both Grey and Pied departed; the former to return later that afternoon.

We were granted a second showing of the Pied Butcherbird’s lissom acrobatic prowess the following day when again it swooped down from the rooftop to intercept pieces of cheese intended for the Grey Butcherbirds.  My fingers worked overtime tapping in this newly discovered data into the Bird Journal program.

This week we experienced a repeat performance but with rather a sharp twist to the tale.  The Pied Butcherbird arrived earlier than the pair of Grey Butcherbirds and duly took the first morsel of proffered cheese.  It perched on the corner of the east and north verandahs and I had just turned away to resume drinking my tea when a flash of feathers skimmed by close to my left ear; there was a distinct clack of wing beats.  I stopped, amazed, puzzled.  Had I just been attacked, warned off by some unseen bird?

I spotted a Grey Butcherbird in the sapling at the edge of the track leading to the house.  Had it been the culprit, the unseen attacker?  The question was answered a moment later when the Grey took off and swooped in on the verandah corner – straight at the Pied, only averting certain collision at the last moment.  Again, the clack of wings indicted that this was no chance encounter but a deliberate assault by the Grey Butcherbird on its close cousin, the Pied Butcherbird.

Again, moments later, the Grey attacked the Pied in a deliberate offensive.  On the next assault the Pied Butcherbird clearly decided that discretion was the better part of valour and beat a hasty retreat back towards the west of the property.

There has been no repeat performance by the pied butcherbird since that ignominious defeat.

BACKYARD DARLINGS

All bird species are of course most welcome at Allen Road.  We extend the invitation to anywhere along the 2km length of the road, from its junction with the main Nanango-Maidenwell Road to its confluence with Andrew Road.  Indeed, our offer covers the entire South Burnett region.  All we ask is that we [Fay and I] are there when a particularly rare species does put in an appearance.

Yet for all the above, it would be less than honest of me not to admit that there are some species in more favour than others. 

Don’t get me wrong, the humble Magpie-lark Grallina cyanoleuca or oft maligned Torresian Crow Corvus orru are not spurned or driven away as if they were the lepers of avian society.  Far from it but they are present each and every day; up close and raucous to boot.  They have become a commonplace and complacency has set in- on both sides of the biological divide.  The crows ignore our efforts to keep them away from the duck and chicken eggs while the magpie-larks take early morning duty on the verandah rails and call until either one or both of us are awake and out of bed.  We have rarely resorted to alarm clocks since moving to Allen Road.

They continue to bring pleasure: the crows when their young have fledged and continuously beg for food.  At those times we can even feel sorry for the stressed adults endeavouring to keep the ravenous young satisfied.  The magpie-larks brought a smile this year when they successfully reared their second clutch but tinged with a little sadness when the second of their well-developed youngsters simply disappeared.

Nor do we bear any malice to the introduced Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis or the much maligned Common Myna Sturnus tristis.   The doves are harmless enough, nay, they are really quite attractive birds.  We initially noted a pair but nowadays see only one.  

The mynas present a more serious threat.  We first saw them back in the 1980s at a north Sydney railway station where they covered platform and tracks like a writhing carpet of feathers.  Years later, our good friends Richard & Bess Newman of Redcliffe, occasional birdwatchers rather than dedicated birders, reported seeing a pair outside the Clontarf State School.  Fay and I rushed around to confirm the sighting, a sad first for the Redcliffe Peninsula.  On our last visit there, while not abundant, the mynas had certainly become common.

The Pale-headed Rosella Platycercus adscitus comes high on the list of favoured species, if for no other reason than that last year they showed a lot of interest in my “manufactured” rosella nestbox.  They entered it, they looked it over but decided against it.  We relocated it from the Dog Compound grey gum to the Wren Garden angophora; from facing southwest to northwest; we live in hope of eventual occupancy

Among Fay’s top birds is the Australian King-Parrot Alisterus scapularis, a striking mixture of vivid red and dark green.  They remain among the more confiding of the wild species and can even be coaxed into feeding from your hand.  They will land on chair backs and stare through the open French doors to investigate any human indoor activity.  The recent sighting of the “Kinky King-Parrot [see previous posting] has added an element of expectancy; will it reappear?

 

Given a Backyard List in excess of 140 species there are many among the “more favoured” echelon: the regular summer migrant continue to please, typically, the spectacular courtship displays of the Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis; the male/female duet  of the Eastern Koel Eudynamys orientalis; the deafening call of the Channel-billed Cuckoo Scythrops novaehollandiae.

Some have been “favoured” since, or near, the inception: the raptors, a Wedge-tailed Eagle Aquila audax at the original visit, a Nankeen Kestrel Falco cenchroides at the subsequent visit, the Brown Falcon Falco berigora of September 2001.  Others were considered a little special but then disappeared, some, the White-browed Scrubwren Sericornus frontalis and the Eastern Whipbird Psophodes olivaceus, making recent comebacks to once again feature in the “more favoured” list.


Many more could trip off the tongue: Australasian Pipit Anthus novaeseelandiae, Australian Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles cristatus, Dusky Woodswallow Artamus cyanopterus, Leaden Flycatcher Myiagra rubecula, Rainbow Bee-eater Merops ornatus and of course the humble Yellow-rumped Thornbill Acanthiza chrysorrhoa.

However, yesterday’s sighting of the Glossy Black-Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus lathami and Fay’s earlier sighting of eight Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos perched near the laboratory where she works served as a timely reminder that we have long since felt a special affinity with this beautiful bird.  We first recorded it for Allen Road back on 8 July 2001; the 60th Backyard List species on only our 20th visit to the property.

All three of the Black-Cockatoos present in the South Burnett region have been recorded at Allen Road: the Red-tailed Calyptorhynchus  banksii [first sighting, 27 January 2002], the Yellow-tailed Calyptorhynchus funereus [first sighting, 10 June 2001] and the Glossy. 

The Yellow-tailed, the most common of the three, is classified as “secure” in all states, in which it is actually present, with the exception of South Australia where it has been defined as “vulknerable.”  It is the most common of the Allen Road black-cockatoos.

Of the five races of Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, concern is at its most poignant for the south-eastern form, C. b. graptogyne.  The Allen Road specimens are those from the nominate form, C. b. macrorhynchus.

And so we come to the real Darling of the Backyard List, the Glossy Black-Cockatoo, one of the more threatened of the black-cockatoos and listed as “vulnerable” both in New South Wales and Queensland.  It was the reason I agreed to take on the role of Conservation Committee Chair with BASQ – only to discover that the Glossy Black Conservancy meets during the working week!  I am lead to believe this is to facilitate the attendance of people paid to help with the bird.  Those of us prepared to give up our own free time –and without pay- are relegated to the nether ranks.

Nevertheless, Fay and I continue our work on behalf of this, the smallest of Australia’s six black-cockatoos.  We record every sighting, here along Allen Road and in the wider South Burnett community.  One of our major replanting programs on the property is the propagation of allocasuarinas [particularly the Black She-oak Allocasuarina littoralis], the favoured food of the Glossies in this area.  Plans are afoot to design and construct nestboxes suitable for this bird.

ROOTLING ALONG

Matters rootle along at a steady pace down Allen Road. There is always the odd excitement, such as a Pacific Baza Aviceda subcristata suddenly sweeping into view from over the tin shed.  Its presence had, of course, long since been advertised by the raucous din of the Noisy Miners Manorina melanocephala.  However, in general, avian life follows a fairly set routine.  One day can be very much like another.

Not that Fay and I are complaining.  It’s the bread-and-butter birds of your local patch that set the overall ambience. 

We may object to the Torresian Crows Corvus orru which continually steals our chicken and duck eggs but where would the local ecology be without their presence?  As scavengers they are second to none among the birds.

The Apostlebirds Struthidea cinerea may be the bullies of the Verandah Feeder, often harassing the attractive Australian King-Parrots Alisterus scapularis from off the terracotta plant saucer itself but their communal co-operation remains a spectacle par excellence.  The vocal gymnastics of the Australian Magpies Cracticus tibicen continues to bring auditory pleasure to our ears, just as does the amazing sight of two male magpies sharing a feeding spot together.

Other “regulars” present themselves each and every day.  A pair of Grey Butcherbirds Cracticus torquatus has successfully trained Fay and I to provide them with slivers of cheese when they alight on the verandah rail.  The Grey-crowned Babblers Pomatostomus temporalis have learnt how to extract discarded sunflower seeds from between the cracks in the verandah decking.  The more aggressive of the Rainbow Lorikeets Trichoglossus haematodus appears to have either taken anger-management consultation, moved out of the immediate area or perhaps has even passed on to wherever it is deceased birds go.

No, oddities and rarities are all very well but the non-appearance of our everyday species would be of real concern.  We still vividly recall the shock of learning that the humble Tree Sparrow Passer montanus population in the United Kingdom has plummeted; we’ve heard rumours that a similar fate is befalling the even humbler House Sparrow Passer domesticus.  Worse yet, consider the Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius; in its millions one day, extinct the next.

Yet, in spite of all the above, the unexpected appearance of the Red-winged Parrot Aprosmictus erythropterus, quietly perched in a small Wren Garden sapling, next to our angophora tree, was more than mildly exciting.  It was only the 17th sighting of this bird on our property since its first appearance back at the end of August 2008.

Its timing was awkward.  Fay and I were sitting on the east verandah, sipping coffee, when we suddenly spotted the obvious flash of red wing partly hidden behind foliage.  It didn’t need past experience to warn us that Red-wings tend to be skittish, will fly at the least provocation.  Fortunately both binoculars and cameras were to hand.  I carefully picked up one of the latter, switched on and slowly dropped to my knees on the verandah decking.  The southside balustrades would act as partial cover.

On reaching the southeast corner of the verandah I eased myself up, for all the world trying to look a mere extension of the corner post.  I fired in the first shot.  The Red-wing twitched the photograph was rubbish.  I tried a second shot, no mean feat when you’re trying to be a wooden post keeping movement to a minimum.  The Red-wing shifted uneasily; the photograph was only marginally better.

 
The second shot, a “D”.

 

 

   I got in a third shot; the bird was distinctly jittery by now.

 
The third shot for which I award myself a “C”, more for the effort than the photographic niceties.

 

I backed off.  It didn’t need a PhD to reason that my next shot could be my last shot and for a long moment I hesitated.  Did I need another shot that would surely drive the bird away?  Would it be more ethical to abandon photography to allow the bird space? 

I needed another shot but a Pied Currawong Strepera graculina suddenly alighting atop the same sapling settled the issue; the Red-wing flew off to the east and I was left with three rather poor shots, ranging from a barely passable “C” to a disappointing “D-minus“.

The pair of Magpie-larks Grallina cyanoleuca reminded me of what really matters along Allen Road.

CRACKING 600

We arrived at BOWRA with the 2016 Year List standing at 580.  That count had previously been achieved in 1999, when we had first topped the 500 species tally.  It had been helped along with birding trips to the USA, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Poland, Italy and Hong Kong.  Within Australia that same year, we had covered Sundown National Park, Mount Barney and Lady Elliot Island.

We departed BOWRA with the almost staggering Year List of 597 birds.  3 birds short of 600 – a figure almost beyond our birding horizons.

Could we break the 600 species in one year mark?

Last weekend we decided to cover Bribie Island; a place of gulls, terns and assorted waders.  We travelled via Deception Bay where we “ticked” Whimbrel [last recoded by us on 10 February 2015] and then Bar-tailed Godwit [last recorded in February 2010].  599.

The mega [600th bird] came in the form of the humbler Greater Crested Tern [last recorded in December 2014]

We had cracked to 600-species mark!

But there was more to come!  On Bribie Island itself we “ticked” Mangrove Gerygone [last recorded on my birthday back in 2009].  We moved to Buckley’s Hole where we gathered in Pied Oystercatcher [last recorded by us in Western Australia in September 2015 during our “Westward Ho! 2” trip].

At Scarborough, where we lunched with Ann Rogers and Dee McKenzie, we added Pacific Golden Plover [last recorded in December 2010] and Grey-tailed Tattler [last recorded in February 2015].

By the end of the Bribie Island jaunt our Year List tally peaked at 604 species; the only time we have crested the 600 species barrier.

The current 2016 Year List stands at 604 specie

Along the Allery Trail

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It wasn’t even our primary objective. The Allery Trail was no more than a means to a broader end; finding another access point to the segmented Brisbane Valley Rail Trail.

We’d first come across the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail back in May 2010.   It was Colleen Fingland, along with her husband, Robert, who had first introduced us to the walk. We covered a few kilometres from the Blackbutt end, out towards Benarkin, before the heat of the day decided us to admit that discretion was, after all, the better part of valour – or at least the safer side of skin cancer. Nevertheless we came away with a list of 36 species with gems such as Red-rumped Parrot and Rose Robin among the day’s tally.

Our next sortie on the Rail Trail was not until April 2011 when we discovered an unscheduled, or at least an unmapped access point off the D’Aguilar Highway. However, as it was only a matter of metres from the Benarkin Railway Station official access it served little purpose in solving the overall difficulty. On that occasion we again left matters a little late in the day; t was already past peak daylight hours by the time we found the side track down to the old railway. We came away with a disappointing tally of only nine species although that did include very close views of a Tawny Frogmouth perched near eye-level up a small sapling.

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It took more than a year [October 2012] before we ventured out onto the Rail Trail again.

By now we were beginning to appreciate the segmented nature of the Rail Trail. Stretching some 45km, it has only a limited number of access points between Yarraman and Linville. It is rumoured that the Rail Trail will eventually reach out all the way to Ipswich but for Fay and I anything further than Linville lies beyond the Wide World and is of no interest to timid moles or cautious water rats.

In October 2012 we made our way to Ditchmen Park, the Linville end of the Rail Trail, hoping to make our way back towards Benarkin. It has to be appreciated that back in that period of the sojourn we were unaware of the total length of the Trail; unaware of its segments or of each segmental distance. In fact, when poised at Ditchmen Park we had never actually looked at a map of each segment or one of the entire route. We were babes in pioneering arms; avian adventures up the creek without a reliable paddle.

Perhaps not too surprising then that throughout 2013 we failed to record any surveys along the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail.

Matters took on a different complexion in early March 2014, during the first Saturday of the month in fact; Nanango’s monthly Market Day. Fay was chasing replacement ducks for our aging quartet of Welsh Harlequins and the three surviving Indian Runners were all drakes. I was still hopeful of finding a brace of pheasant. What we found was a stall maintained by volunteers of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail who willingly supplied us with two brochures, “on the right track: Nukku Road to Yarraman” and “on the right track: Moore to Blackbutt.” Both provided rough mudmaps of the Rail Trail, although the latter was the larger and more useful of the maps.

The pennies were beginning to fall into place. The Rail Trail was segmented, sectionalized, with specific access points to each sector. And for the first time we had official distances.

The younger, fitter, elements of society could walk the entire length [and back] although bicycles and horses are allowed. Those of a more delicate nature could tackle the Rail Trail segment by segment [there and back again] on different days. Those more disposed to idling had a choice:

  1. Walk part way and return, tackling the same section from the other end at a different time

  2. Take two vehicles; leave one at the eventual “end.” Drive around to the “beginning” of the selected segment, walk to the designated “end” and then simply drive back to the “beginning” where the second walker would pick up their awaiting car.

That worked reasonably well until one came to the last segment, Benarkin to Linville – 18km each way! At our age that was clearly a bridge too far.

And therein lay the challenge. We needed further access points somewhere between Benarkin and Linville to bring the 18km down to more manageable distances.

It was Fay who first discovered the existence of the Allery Trail. If we were reading the green-dotted track [the Allery Trail] aright it intersected with the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail at some point along the D’Aguilar Highway. Further perusal of the mudmap clearly showed that for at least part of its 31km circuitous route, the Allery Trail simply followed the Old Esk Road and that was a part of the world we knew.

The plan became glaringly obvious: drive down to the Old Esk Road, link up with the Allery Trail and follow that until we arrived at its intersection with the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail. Piece of cake!

Well, not quite. We had programmed EMILY [our Garmin GPS unit] to lead the way. She did well up to midway along Taromeo Road when she wanted us to take a left into William Road. There was no William Road to take a left into. We retraced our steps and again EMILY advised us to [this time] take a right onto William Road but there was still no William Road to be seen from behind the windscreen.

We executed another U-turn and a few kilometres along found ourselves at a major Y-junction but according to EMILY this was beyond our desired turning point. We returned to the site of the mythical William Road and did notice a narrow forestry track on our right. However, apart from a discarded television monitor and a handful of Red-browed Finches there seemed to be no passage through to the Allery Trail.

Back to the aforementioned Y-junction. Again, it was Fay who first spotted the rather discreet sign pointing to the right-hand fork; designated by a rather unpretentiously sign, with minute printing above a short, narrow, black arrow, “Rail Trail”.

We diligently followed this, looking and listening out for bird life until we reached a second Y-junction. The fork to the left read “Sandy Creek”; a smaller, somewhat modest, sign on the right simply read “Rail Trail.” There was no mention of the “Allery Trail” but further consultation with our small-scale mudmaps suggested that we were in fact on part of the Allery Trail. It dropped sharply downhill and disappeared around a sharpish left-hand bend some 50m away.

Always firm followers in that old adage about discretion being the better side of valour, we parked the Forester at this point and walked down to the bend to scout out the lie of the topography.

The gravel road continued downhill for another one hundred or so metres before taking a right-hand bend. We continued downhill. On reaching the bend, the road slid down another few hundred metres before turning again. We went on, looking and listening out for birds. The road disappeared around yet another bend, always heading downhill, always seemingly becoming steeper.

The birding itself was meagre; the ubiquitous Grey Fantail was the first species to actually show itself, as distinct from the half dozen “heard only” birds to that point. Nevertheless, at the next bend we agreed to persevere… just to the next downhill bend. And then the next. We had no pedometer at that time [it came a little later] but guessed we had travelled several kilometres/miles, always downhill.

 

Section

Distance

Yarraman to Harland Park

7.5km

Harland Park to Nukku Road

6.5km

Nukku Road to Blackbutt

4km

Blackbutt to Benarkin

8.5km

Benarkin to Linville

18km

 

The Lewin’s Honeyeater and Bell Miner became our next “seen” birds. We carried on and then heard the distinctive roar of an overworked heavy engine. It didn’t need rocket science to realise that not too far ahead [below] us was the D’Aguilar Highway. We were surely nearing the crucial part of the Allery Trail.

By the time we reached the next bend we suddenly became aware of the horrible truth; we knew exactly where we were heading for and that we had been here before.

The January 2011 floods created havoc in the Blackbutt Ranges with major landslides blocking off access to Blackbutt and beyond from that direction [east]. Indeed, severe flooding in the Gympie area [to the north] and massive water damage in and around Toowoomba [to the south] virtually isolated the immediate area; Fay and I were marooned on our own property for three days.

As part of the rebuilding program, the D’Aguilar Highway running through the Blackbutt Ranges was eventually opened piecemeal with contraflow traffic allowed through in 15-minute blocks, either up from Moore or down to Moore and beyond. By coincidence, the traffic lights on the Blackbutt side of the one-way system were position just after the old railway bridge; below was the track bed, now part of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail.

At the time we were barely aware of its existence, having walked along its Blackbutt section only the once, in May 2010. However, on a number of the many occasions when we mis-timed our approach to the lights and were forced to wait for the changeover, we did notice a forest track leading back off and uphill from the highway. There was an open area at the foot of the forest track.

Later, in April 2011, when we had become aware of the Rail Trail, we pulled up in the lay-bye created by the earth-moving machinery and attempted to find a way down to the track bed. Tangled vines and thorny bushes had the better of the encounter, forcing us to abandon any hopes of an access point hereabouts.

Now, as we approached the last 500m of the Allery Trail, we knew that on the last bend we would be standing in that same lay-bye off the D’Aguilar Highway. We had walked down the same forestry track we had first noticed going up from the side of the D’Aguilar Highway but had failed to investigate in our attempts to find a way down to the Rail Trail.

Access to the Rail Trail was on our left, some 20m from the actual point of intersection. It was also the continuation of the Allery Trail as from this junction the two shared the same old trackbed back to Blackbutt where the Allery Trail veered off to the north while the Rail Trail wound its way towards Nukku Road.

We had achieved the primary raison d’etre for the outing; we had found another access point to the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail between Benarkin and Linville.

All that remains now is to resolve the daunting reality that from the Allery/Brisbane Valley Rail Trail junction there is still a 12km stretch to Linville.

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