Saturday, December 24, 2011

South-west Endemics Part 2: White-breasted Robin

The White-breasted Robin (Eopsaltria georgiana) is a characteristic resident of tangled gullies and thick understorey in the karri and jarrah forests of south-west WA, though there is also a lesser-known relict population in coastal gully thickets north of Perth. “A quietly garbed but attractive bird” was Serventy and Whittell’s description [1], capturing surprise that a grey and white robin should be so much more striking than a plumage description would make it sound.

White-breasted Robin Eopsaltria georgiana

“Peculiar” was Leach’s more prosaic assessment [2]. Taxonomy of the White-breasted Robin has been surprisingly controversial, given that to superficial appearances it seems a typical (if colourless) Eopsaltria robin. It shares many mannerisms with the Eastern and Western Yellow Robins, such as the habit of clinging sideways to low trunks and branches, motionless except for occasional flicking of the tail and wings. Like them it is initially shy but hopelessly inquisitive, and cannot resist checking you out if you sit still for a moment. Indeed it is so similar to the Yellow Robins that this complex has long been considered a classic example of speciation by double invasion, with successive waves into the south-west forests evolving to lose all (White-breasted Robin) or half (Western Yellow Robin) of an originally fully yellow breast (Eastern Yellow Robin).

However it has sufficient differences from the Yellow Robins, particularly its eggs, to persistently trouble taxonomists. Campbell first removed it from Eopsaltria to Amaurodryas (now Melanodryas) based on a perceived “oological” association with the Dusky Robin of Tasmania; Mathews lumped it instead with Mangrove Robin in the genus Quoyornis, where it remained isolated for some time after Mangrove Robin was split off to yet another monospecific genus Peneonanthe [2]. However a 2009 molecular phylogenetic study [3] reported the unexpected finding that the White-breasted Robin may instead be most closely related to the ‘other’ yellow robins - the two Tregellasia robins (the White-faced and Pale Yellow Robin of north-eastern rainforests).
UPDATE: Christidis et al 2011 [6] confimed this unexpected paraphyletic status of Eopsaltria and recommended that White-breasted Robin return to the genus Quoyornis.

Monday, December 5, 2011

3 People, 50 Hours, 4,474km, One Bird - Eurasian Hoopoe near Broome

In early November this year, the Australian twitching community went into overdrive with news that a Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops) had turned up near Broome. Eurasian Hoopoes occur widely across Europe and Asia. The Broome bird has been identified as the strongly migratory race saturata, which breeds mostly in east Asia (Japan, Siberia, South China etc.) and migrates south to winter, making it the most likely candidate for vagrancy to Australia. Nonetheless, most Aussie twitchers would probably admit that the species had not figured highly on their list of likely new birds for Australia.

Eurasian Hoopoe at Roebuck Roadhouse near Broome.

The bird was found on the 10th November hanging around near the Roebuck Roadhouse, 30km out of Broome, by Kim Onton, Chris Hassell and Marten Hulzebosch. Being a first record for Australia, and a particularly charismatic species to boot, it was no surprise that news of the sighting sent twitchers into something of a frenzy, as many raced to work out the feasibility of a mad dash to see the bird. Fortunately for those that have made the trip, the bird has generally remained in situ since the initial sighting (still present Saturday 3rd December), although it hasn't always been easy to locate and a few people dipped several times before connecting.

The Broome Eurasian Hoopoe feeding up!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Intermediate Morph Soft-plumaged Petrels off Perth

The Soft-plumaged Petrel (Pterodroma mollis) is a common visitor to offshore waters of southern Western Australia, predominantly from late autumn to early spring. Pelagic seabird trips off Perth, run since 1996, have recorded the species on 27 of the 31 trips run (an 87% recording rate). The species has been recorded less commonly on pelagic trips off Albany, run since 2003, having been recorded on five of the nine trips run (a 56% recording rate).

Soft-plumaged Petrel off Perth.

Soft-plumaged Petrels are one of several petrel species to exhibit polymorphism. The pale morph is easily the most commonly occurring variant, but dark morph individuals are also regularly (but rarely) recorded. Intermediate individuals have been recorded, but these are particularly rare. Indeed, Onley & Scofield [1] report only “a few scruffy intermediate specimens … in museum collections” and “no recent records at sea or from breeding grounds”. This assertion is clouded by differences in treatment of intermediate individuals between authors. Shirihai [2] for example appears to include all intermediate morphs, along with the wholly dark morph, under the dark morphs. He describes the dark morph as being “partially (mottled) to wholly dusky-brown/sooty-grey on underparts, with variable breastband, but rest of plumage as pale morph”. Much of the confusion is likely down to the fact that in reality there is not a distinct intermediate morph; rather intermediate birds can fall anywhere on a spectrum between typical pale morph birds and fully dark individuals.

Pale morph Soft-plumaged Petrel off Perth.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Crake City - Thomson's Lake

“This must be Crake City”, my son proclaimed. Summer at Thomson’s Lake is probably as close as you can get to Crake City in Western Australia. We had started the morning at Kogolup Swamp but the water levels there were too high. It was ankle deep at the edge of the shallowest rushes and the crakes could be heard tucked up deep in the rushes where our spying eyes could not see them. We moved to Thomson’s Lake which dries earlier and had plenty of mud exposed at the edges of the rushes. Crake heaven. Well, crake watching birders' heaven!

Australian Spotted Crake at Thomson's Lake.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Perth Wader Sites (Part 2: Coastal & Estuarine Sites)

This is the second  part of our two-part guide to wader sites near Perth, this time focussing on coastal and estuarine sites (although the sharp-eyed amongst you will notice a couple of sites that are technically lakes have snuck in here too!). The sites this time are listed roughly in order of closeness to Perth CBD, although there are a few out of place.

Alfred Cove: Alfred Cove is one of Perth’s best known wader sites, located within 15 minutes of the city centre. Whilst wader numbers (particularly small species like Sharp-tailed and Curlew Sandpiper) have fallen significantly at the site in the last decade or so, you can usually still find a reasonable variety of waders here over summer. The most commonly seen species are Bar-tailed Godwit, Great Knot, Common Greenshank, Grey Plover, Australian Pied Oystercatcher and Black-winged Stilt. Red Knot, Red-necked Avocet, Pacific Golden Plover, Red-necked Stint and Red-capped Plover are also reasonably regular, and Black-tailed Godwits have been observed regularly over the last few years. Other less common visitors can include Pacific Golden Plover, Whimbrel, Terek Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and Banded Stilt.

To reach the cove, park near the sports centre at Troy Park off Burke Dr. Check the samphire and any muddy margins of the cove and any nearby sandbanks and mudflats along the Attadale foreshore - the extent of the exposed sandbanks varies with the level of the tide.

Grey Plover are one of the most common coastal waders to visit the Perth area, and can usually be seen at Alfred Cove during wader season.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Perth Wader Sites (Part 1: Lakes)

This is the first post of a two-part guide to wader sites near Perth, covering lake sites. The second part will cover coastal and estuarine sites. The sites are ordered according to how good they are for waders, although obviously the precise order will always be debatable and will vary with conditions, so it’s a rough guide only. The occurrence of waders at all the lakes listed here is dependent on water level, so it’s useful to seek local advice on which lakes are in best condition at that particular time. To assist with this, we will endeavour to provide periodic updates on the conditions of the lakes around Perth through summer, either on this page or on our Twitter site. GPS positions are included for some of the spots mentioned to help with finding them.

Lake McLarty: When water levels are right (typically Dec-Feb), Lake McLarty was formerly the best wader site in the Perth area (and indeed the entire south-west), with counts in excess of 10,000 waders frequently recorded. Unfortunately, the cessation of periodic cattle-grazing in the reserve combined with reduced water levels from lower rainfall and increased draw-down has resulted in a steady increase in grass growth, and grass now covers the majority of the lakebed. This has resulted in major declines in wader numbers at the lake, with few (if any) counts over 1,000 in the last two seasons. Uncommon species like Pectoral Sandpiper, Long-toed Stint and Ruff are still fairly regular though.

As the water level falls at the start of summer, flooded grass areas become available for waders. At this time, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers are typically the commonest migratory wader present, usually with small numbers of Curlew and Pectoral Sandpipers. Black-tailed Godwit, Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Long-toed Stint, and Wood Sandpiper are also regulars in small numbers. Resident waders including Black-winged Stilt, Red-necked Avocet, and Red-capped Plover are also generally common, and Banded Stilt can sometimes be found in small numbers. In the current situation, this remains the situation until the lake dries.

A mixed flock of waders at Lake McLarty, including Sharp-tailed and Curlew Sandpipers, and Red-necked Stints.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thomas, Thomas, Andrew & McBride, "The Complete Guide to Finding the Birds of Australia" - A WA-centric Review with Additions/Errata

This book has been well reviewed elsewhere (see below), so we will largely restrict this review to a WA perspective, and add some (hopefully useful) comments to supplement the WA site and species listings in this recently released 2nd edition. We’ll endeavour to keep this page updated as things change and we collect more info.

Things don’t start well for the west when the opening paragraph of the WA section throws an outrageous slur against WA’s “relatively few” endemics. I presume they don’t refer to regional endemics, since with now 15 endemic species south-west WA is arguably second only to tropical Queensland as an endemic bird area within Australia. I guess they mean “fewer of Australia’s endemics are found in WA” – a fair cop. And I guess an obsession with endemics can be excused in a book that is mainly targeted at tickers and twitchers!

All-in-all this is well-produced and attractive book, and there is no doubt this is a much better book than both its 1st edition, and the dated and less accurate alternatives of Bransbury’s “Where to find birds in Australia” and (for WA) Noela Marr’s “Where to find birds in Western Australia”. However there are a few things about it that irk.

The Complete Guide to Finding the Birds of Australia - cover page.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Spring Calls for Bitterns

Spring has arrived and it’s time for all good birders to get busy! There are many options for birders in spring as the bush birds are in breeding mode and the migratory waders are returning from the north. But for a dedicated crew, the calls of bitterns beckon and cannot be ignored!

Australasian Bittern in flight at Kulinilup Swamp, part of the Muir-Unicup wetlands near Manjimup.

We head out to swamps and lakes at twilight throughout the south-west of Western Australia and listen for the resonant booming of the endangered Australasian Bittern and the staccato “wooks” of the Australian Little Bittern. The male Australasian Bittern usually calls from September to December in WA but can call from as early as August and to as late as January.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Arctic Tern at Hillarys Boat Harbour

LATEST UPDATE: Still present and showing well late this afternoon (13/08)

An Arctic Tern is currently hanging out around Hillarys Boat Harbour in Perth's northern suburbs. The bird has been very co-operative and allowed close views, but appears in reasonable health. It was initially seen on the 4th August by Michael Hancock, then again by others on the 5th and 6th. It's now been seen again by a number of people on the 11th and 12th August.

Arctic Tern at Hillarys Boat Harbour.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Perth Seawatching Sites

If our previous post has got anyone fired up about seawatching (how could it not have?), this follow-up outlines the major seawatching locations around in the greater Perth area. Seawatching anywhere requires patience and many long hours of watching to reap the rewards of potential rarities, but this is particularly so on the Perth coast, where a good deal of effort is often required just to see commoner species! However, if you are prepared to put in the time, you may be rewarded with interesting sightings of seabirds usually only seen well offshore.

The best seawatching conditions usually occur from late May through to August with the passage of strong cold fronts. Ideally, a strong wind (25knts or more) with a reasonable westerly component is needed to bring seabirds close to the coast, particularly if the wind remains strong for 2-3 days or more. However, you may be lucky and pick up one or two seabirds in lighter winds. Morning is generally the best time of day for seabird activity, particularly the first few hours after sunrise, with activity often dropping away somewhat in the afternoon.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel, photographed from North Mole in Fremantle

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Sea, The Sea

Winter is finally upon us here in SW Western Australia, and all right-minded birders turn their thoughts to the arrival of hordes of petrels and albatross from more southerly climes. So it was on Friday that I drove down to Point Peron to indulge in a little seawatching. A cold front was passing over and the winds were forecast to be in the region of 20-25 knots.

For those people who don’t know, seawatching is just that - spending hours just staring at the waves, imagining what fantastic species might fly past (but never do!). Sean Dooley in his book “Anoraks to Zitting Cisticola” defines seawatching as “trekking out to an exposed spot on the coast… and sitting for hours as you scan the oceans for any birds that fly past; the worse the weather the better, as deep ocean species are more likely to be blown towards the shore”.

So what did I see on my seawatch?  First I have to explain to you that the south-western Indian Ocean must surely be the worst seawatching spot there is (if you know better, then please tell me, not that I’ll believe you).  This is made worse because just around the corner (literally) is the Southern Ocean, which has albatross and petrels galore. But given that it’s a five hour drive to get down there, that is not a viable option, so I’m stuck with Perth.

Those were the days.........

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Endemic-In-Waiting: Western White-naped Honeyeater

UPDATE: This species was renamed Gilbert's Honeyeater in the IOC list from v5.2, and the same name was adopted by eBird/Clements when split in 2015.

As we wait in post-C&B limbo to discover which body will replace Christidis & Boles [1] as the official arbiters of the Australian list, it appears almost certain that the next revision – by whoever – will split the western form of the White-naped Honeyeater (Melithreptus lunatus) as M. chloropsis. This change has already been adopted by the influential IOC World Bird List from v2.6 (Oct 23 2010) [2] and restores the species described and named by Gould himself in 1848 [3].

Both Gould and modern taxonomists cite the western form’s larger size, longer and thicker bill, thicker black margin around chin, and different colouration of the bare skin above the eye, which is bright red in lunatus but white to very pale blue-green in chloropsis (Latin for green-eyed). In support of re-splitting the species, a recent molecular analysis by Toon et al. (2010) [4] has demonstrated the two are paraphyletic, meaning that M. lunatus is more closely related to another species (the Black-headed Honeyeater M. affinis of Tasmania) than it is to its previously-alleged subspecies M. l. chloropsis. [Incidentally, Toon et al. found surprisingly “shallow” genetic differences in M. brevirostris, so I don’t think we’ll be seeing the elevation to species of Western Brown-headed Honeyeater leucogenys any time soon].

A Western White-naped Honeyeater, Melithreptus chloropsis, from marginal jarrah/karri forest at Donnelly River (near Bridgetown).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

South-west Endemics Part 1: Red-eared Firetail

The Red-eared Firetail is an attractive finch endemic to the southwest of WA. As there is only one native firetail in the region, many locals tend to just call them “Firetails” or “Firetail Finches”. The Red-browed Finch, which also has a fiery tail, is present in some Perth hills locations and has established a self-sustaining population from aviary escapees at least 50 years ago [1]. So they are tickable too!

Adult Red-eared Firetail.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

ID Feature: White-tailed Black-Cockatoos

Although recognised as distinct forms as long ago as 1933 (by none other than ornithologist Ivan Carnaby), Carnaby's (Calyptorhynchus latirostris) and Baudin's (C. baudinii) Black Cockatoos were only officially split by the first Christidis & Boles checklist in 1994 [1]. They are typically described in field guides as 'identical except for bill length', which can be unhelpful for birders who can't get a decent look at the upper mandible. We hope the following information is more useful!

Bill Length (but don't forget width!)
This is the obvious and defining difference between the two species, and reflects a difference in feeding habits. Baudin's use their very long mandible tips to carefully extract seeds from woody fruits (e.g. marri gumnuts), leaving little damage on the nut. Carnaby's tend to much more destructive and will chew the rim off marri nuts to access the seeds.

A male Baudin's Black-Cockatoo carefully hooks the seeds out of a marri nut. Note the brownish tinge to plumage (see General Description below).

Friday, April 1, 2011

Northern Pintail at Erskine Lakes

LATEST UPDATE: Northern Pintail still present on Monday, back on the smaller lake - per Bruce Greatwich (11 April)

A female Northern Pintail has again been reported from Erskine Lakes near Mandurah. This is the same location as a female was located in July 2010 and is likely to be the same bird. There are five previous records from Australia (including the 2010 Erskine record), three of which have been from WA.

Northern Pintail at Erskine Lakes

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

ID Feature: Dovetailing

Introducing a uniquely Western Australian birding challenge: the slightly obscure, but not entirely frivolous sport of differentiating Spotted and Laughing Doves solely by their tails!

While these species are usually easily separated by differences in size, colour, and neck markings, it is not uncommon to flush a dove and see only its rear end before it disappears. Furthermore, immature Spotted Doves are smaller, paler, and lack the black neck patch, so are less easily differentiated from Laughing on brief views.

A local Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis) with plumage characteristics of the Indo-Malayan subspecies tigrina, including dark streaking on the wing feathers, light grey lesser coverts on the carpus, and off-white undertail coverts. Most Perth birds lack the latter two features. A CSIRO study [1] found that most Perth birds have dark streaking but browner wing and undertail coverts and are thus an ambiguous mixture of introduced subspecies tigrina and chinensis

Compared to the generally browner Spotted Dove, Laughing Doves (Streptopelia senegalensis) show rich coppery-pinks tones on the body, and more blueish slate-grey wings and rump

Monday, February 7, 2011

Common Terns at Herdsman Lake

The BAWA Sightings page received a report of 12 Common Tern at Maurice Hamer Park, Herdsman Lake on the morning of the 7th February. A subsequent search that afternoon revealed one bird still remaining at Maurice Hamer Park. Other areas of the lake, particularly the northern end, were not extensively searched, so the others may still be present. The single bird was initially seen hawking over the water, then perched on a piece of wood near the lake shore about 200m around to the left (north) of the carpark off Lakeside Drive near Heron Place.

Common Tern (& Pacific Black Duck) at Herdsman Lake

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Living Ghosts of Twitches Past

A pre-Christmas visit to Rottnest Island appeared to confirm the rumours were true – the Indian Peafowl control program may well have removed the last peahen from the island [1]. Long-time island residents confirmed that, to the best of their knowledge, the two adult male peacocks currently hanging around the Thompson Bay settlement are the last remnants of this historic population.

Peacock memories, Rottnest 1994.......OK, laugh at the hair if you must!

Monday, January 31, 2011

ID Feature - Pectoral Sandpipers

Pectoral Sandpipers at Lake McLarty.

For our first 'real' post, we thought we'd start with an ID feature from one of the easier bird groups - the waders! Pectoral Sandpipers are being reported more frequently than ever before in the south-west and this summer in particular has seen 'Pecs' turning up at an almost unprecedented number of wetlands.

The primary ID pitfall for Pectoral Sandpiper is Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, which is very similar in appearance. Moreover, in the south-west, Pectoral Sandpipers are typically found in small numbers within Sharp-tailed Sandpiper flocks, which often means some searching is required to locate the Pectorals. However, this also means that it is usually possible to compare the two species side-by-side if you do find a Pec, which can be useful.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Welcome to Leeuwin Current Birding. The idea for this blog was hatched by a group of West Aussie birders as a way of sharing information on birds and birding in Western Australia. We say Western Australia, and the blog will contain information and trip reports from around Western Australia, but even the less sharp-eyed amongst you will probably pick up a bias towards the greater Perth region and for this we apologise! The simple fact is that most of us are based in Perth so we’re naturally biased because (unfortunately) there’s only so much time we can spend travelling (and birding) farther afield!

We envisage the blog will cover a range of topics on birds and birding falling under the following categories;
·         ID Features – various short articles (with accompanying photos) discussing various challenges in bird identification
·         Birding Sites – useful gen on various birding areas around WA
·         Twitching – information and photos of various rare and unusual sightings, updates on conditions (e.g. lake levels) and what’s around
·         Trip Reports – reports and bird lists from various birding quests throughout the state
·         Reviews – short reviews on various bird books, equipment and other stuff birders use
·         Conservation – profiles of some of WA’s rarest birds and the conservation efforts being directed towards them
·         Other Stuff – other relevant (usually) stuff we come up with!

Whilst we like to think we have a vague idea of what we’re on about and will endeavour to make sure all our information is accurate, we’ll almost certainly make stuff-ups, typos, slip-ups, errors, blunders, and gaffes at some stage. If you see something you think is wrong, please let us know at We also welcome general comments, queries, and suggestions about the blog.

Lastly for some boring legal(ish) stuff – as we’ve said, the aim of this blog is to share relevant information on WA birds and birding with others and as such, you are most welcome to save, copy, and/or print information from this blog for your private use. However, you may not reproduce any content on this site publicly or commercially without permission from the relevant authors/photographers.

We hope you enjoy the blog,

The Authors – Leeuwin Current Birding