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.

One annoying habit is that the species accounts mostly just cross-reference to the previous described sites, rather than actually give the best or most accessible sites for the species. For example, the book routinely offers Mitchell Falls as the default site for all Kimberley plateau species, which is not necessarily helpful information if you know anything about the track to Mitchell Falls!

It also often fails to give helpful habitat information, for example in the case of southwest WA birds it will offer “woodlands” without distinguishing between jarrah/marri, karri, and wandoo woodlands which all have their own very characteristic avifauna. This is a pity since habitat associations would, for some species at least, be more useful than the sometimes ridiculously specific locations given (I mean, do we really need to be behind room N60 in order to see Striated Grasswren at Newman Caravan Park? “Princess Parrot has mostly been seen 3.5km west of Neale Junction…” – according to one post, relating to one trip, on Birding-Aus?).

The book is too often anecdotal, and sometimes transparently reads like a travel diary of the Thomas’s original travels around Australia – eg. “Baudin’s Black-Cockatoo have been picked up…about 1km or so from the turn into Porongorup NP along the Mt Barker-Porongorup road” – when, in 1992?

As has been noted by others the addition of colour plates, which no doubt adds significantly to the price of book, is slightly haphazard – many are excellent but others are poor (e.g. there are a few tiny birds in wide crops). These plates are pretty, but at the end of the day don’t really add anything to the core function of the book, and these few dubious images merely serve to attract attention to this fact.

WA Sites
Lake Monger: Yes this is “especially good” for the Blue-billed Ducks and Great Crested Grebe – but so is Herdsman Lake, which is one of Perth’s premier birding locations but is not even mentioned in the book? It’s good to see however, that Western Corella has been removed as a key species at Lake Monger, as the majority of corellas at Monger are Littles, with a few Eastern Long-billeds. Western Corella is only recorded on rare occasions, and then only in very small numbers.

Dryandra: “you are not permitted to camp in the park” - you certainly can camp in the park, at the Congelin Dam campsite managed by DEC.

Porongorups: Blue-breasted Fairy-wren is listed but not Red-winged – this is almost certainly an error, as the latter is common but the former would be edge-of-range and out of typical habitat.

Sugarloaf Rock: the famous breeding colony of Red-tailed Tropicbird has been very quiet in recent years and appears to have been abandoned, though occasional birds are sometimes seen.

The Red-tailed Tropicbird colony at Sugarloaf Rock has sadly all but disappeared. This photo was taken (amazingly) over Thomsons Lake near Perth!

“Western Australia’s only regular pelagic trips are organised by Frank O’Connor aboard the Blue Strike…check Frank’s website for …updates and trip reports” -
Frank no longer organises these trips and his site is rather static these days, though it provides a useful record of past pelagics. Perth and Albany pelagics are currently organised by Alan Collins & John Graff (e-mail

Appendix D, Directory 
WA sightings of note should be reported to, which are listed on after verification. This is the sightings website routinely used by locals, and we would encourage visitors to do the same.

Seawatching sites
“Cape Leeuwin lighthouse can be excellent…records of White-chinned, White-headed Petrels…Bridled Tern in summer”
The lighthouse area is now fenced and only accessible during opening hours for a fairly hefty entrance fee. Cape Naturaliste (curiously not mentioned in the site accounts) is more accessible and has similar species (eg Flesh-footed, Little, Hutton’s Shearwaters). Bridled Tern is easily seen around Perth, particularly at Penguin Island in summer.

Species Accounts
Note that the species listing doesn’t always give a full account of the taxonomy - for example with respect to WA species, the book completely fails to mention the “Western” Fieldwren C. c. montanellus, which has been split by Schodde & Mason, Johnstone & Storr and the IOC, thus is probably worth a mention. [Correction: the split of montanellus is not supported by the WA Museum, this was an error]

Great Crested Grebe: “patchily distributed” - very easy year-round at Lake Monger or Herdsman in Perth.

Fork-tailed Swift: “far more common in WA” – though more common relative to White-throated Needletails, this is still a rather uncommon visitor to southern WA, although it is more common in the north.

Little Shearwater: “only very rarely logged on pelagic trips” – Whilst not especially common, Little Shearwater has been recorded on over 40% of pelagic trips off Perth and Albany over the last 15 years or so. It can also be targeted on shore-based seawatches, e.g. fairly regular at Cape Naturaliste or near its various south coast breeding islands.

Hutton’s Shearwater: “Very similar to Fluttering Shearwater, from which it can be difficult to separate” – on the west coast of WA this is less of a problem; while Fluttering can occur, Hutton’s is far more common (eg. Hillarys & Albany pelagic trips, Cape Naturaliste seawatches).

Australasian Darter: “never numerous” – Darter are far more common in Perth than eastern capitals and can be seen along the foreshore right in front of the city centre. Can’t miss it.

"Never numerous" - on the contrary, Australasian Darters are a frequently-sighted bird in the west, including suburban Perth. This bird was photographed at Herdsman Lake.

Little Egret: “typically coastal in WA” – not so much “coastal” as estuarine in its strongholds of Peel Inlet and Vasse Estuary.

Square-tailed Kite: “not uncommon in the south-west – try Dryandra or Stirling Ranges” – valleys of the Darling Scarp are probably better, eg. Admiral Road or Victoria Reservoir. Also the Broome area.

Spotless Crake: “lower densities than Australian Spotted Crake” – in the west this is reversed as Spotless are far more common & widespread, e.g. Thomsons & Kogolup Lake in summer.

Long-toed Stint: “often seen in swamps around Perth and Rottnest Island” – being a predominantly freshwater wader, this would be rather unusual on Rottnest. Since changes to the water table have affected Forrestdale and Thomsons Lakes, Lake McLarty is the closest reliable site to Perth. Occurrence is dependent on water levels, so check with locals.

Pectoral Sandpiper: “there are no reliable sites for this bird” – these are very reliable in spring-summer at Lake McLarty near Mandurah; also virtually annual at Thomsons Lake. Occurrence at both lakes is again dependent on water levels though, so check with locals.

Bridled Tern: Not a problem bird; very easily seen at Penguin Island near Rockingham in summer.

Fairy Tern: “easily seen in WA along the Peron Peninsula and Carnarvon Harbour” – actually these are easy around many coastal sites around Perth in spring-summer, eg. Fremantle Harbour, North Mole, Peel Inlet, Rottnest Island, & Woodman Point.

Roseate Tern: “Generally rare in Australia and probably easiest to see at breeding colonies on offshore sites such as Houtman Abrolhos” – while not common, Roseates are regular visitors to some more accessible south-west sites including Lancelin, Rockingham, and Rottnest.

Roseate Terns are regular breeding visitors to the coast near Perth, particularly around Lancelin, Rockingham (esp. Point Peron), & Rottnest Island. This individual was photographed at Woodman Point.

Pacific Gull “dark-eyed subspecies unique to Houtman Abrolhos” – this local variant is not recognised to subspecies level according to HANZAB.

Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo: “less common in the south-west” – whilst certainly rarer in absolute numbers – threatened in fact - visitors should have little trouble finding this subspecies (naso) in the Darling Range or even southern suburbs of Perth.

Though officially threatened, the Forest Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (C. b. naso) is becoming regular on the Darling Scarp and in southern suburbs of Perth.

Australian Ringneck: “B. z. zonarius (‘Port Lincoln Ringneck’) called ‘Twenty-eight’ by the locals after its distinctive alarm call, fills the equivalent niche in WA” – this is an error, the south-west “Twenty-eight” subspecies is actually semitorquatus, not zonarius which never makes this call.

Rock Parrot: “seen regularly from the cafĂ© at Cape Leeuwin lighthouse” – unless you really fancy a coffee, a better site is the petrified water wheel nearby, which the Rock Parrots regularly visit to drink.

Regent Parrot: “common at Dryandra” – not particularly; probably easier further south around Kojonup, or coastal plain tuart areas such as around Peel, e.g. west side of Lake McLarty, or interestingly at Foxes Lair in Narrogin, not far from Dryandra.

Variegated Fairy-wren: “M. l. rogersi occurs at Mitchell Falls” – yes, but also at much more accessible locations in the Kimberley, e.g. Emma Gorge.

Blue-breasted Fairy-wren: “Common in woodlands of WA, such as at Porongorup NP and Dryandra SF” – as noted above, would be very unusual at Porongorup NP, and far outnumbered by Red-winged Wren.

Singing Honeyeater: “birds on Rottnest Island are about 25% larger than mainland birds and are probably worth seeing in case they are split” – this seems unlikely as this race does not even rate as a subspecies according to Schodde & Mason. But still worth seeing!

White-naped Honeyeater: “M. l. whitlocki occurs south of Perth in the southwest. Note that a paper published as this book went to press advocated the splitting of ‘Western Honeyeater’ Melithreptus whitlocki from White-naped Honeyeater” – note the correct specific name is chloropsis and the paper in question did not advocate a name (a sore subject – see

Western Yellow Robin: “nominate subspecies is easily found at Stirling ranges and Dryandra SF… eg. rosinae occurs from the Nullarbor Plain eastwards to Eyre Peninsula” – note that rosinae and hybrid birds push a lot further west than is suggested.

Hopefully these comments are useful rather than petty, as overall this book is certainly a very useful addition to the Australian birding literature. No doubt travelling West Australians will be able to use it very effectively to locate birds on the eastern side of the country, blissfully ignorant of any minor errors that locals might churlishly point out!

Further Reading
Visitors to the south-west of WA (and locals!) will find that Simon Nevill’s book “Birds of the Greater South West” also has heaps of useful gen on where to find most of the bird species found in the south-west (pelagic seabirds a notable exception).

Other Reviews
Other reviews of the new version of Thomas & Thomas can be found at:


  1. what a shame, sounds like a great book with all the wrong information

  2. To be fair, our review appears extra-critical because it doubles as an errata/addition list. The idea behind that is not to discourage people from getting hold of the book, but to provide improved and up-to-date info for those using it to help them get the most out of their trip (as I think it is really aimed at visiting birders).

    It is still an excellent addition to the library of any WA birder who plans to bird elsewhere across Australia (or vistors to WA), and as mentioned is comfortably better than many of the alternatives (e.g. Bransbury). That said, it seems it could have benefitted from an extra edit by WA birders

  3. A very useful review, and certainly well worth while from a WA point of view. Note that the first edition did not really contain that much for WA, because the Thomas's travelled fairly quickly through WA and were only after a few species. So good that they have added more. I know Alan McBride and I was surprised that he did not contact me about the sites, except just before going to press as they had heard that Rock Parrots have been harder to find recently at Cape Leeuwin, even if you do pay the entrance fee.

    But given everything, it is a much needed update to the first edition and they put a lot of effort into checking that the original sites were still valid plus adding new sites.

    A few comments on the review, and WA birding sites in general.

    First, I am in the process of making a proposal to BAWA (and for it to be national) that the new Birdlife Australia web site takes on board the BOCA concept of identifying bird sites and appoint a state coordinator / editor for each state to publish details details about any birding site that people would like to publish.

    There are a few issues that would need to be sorted out. e.g. How do you describe Stirling Range without recommending staying at the Stirling Range Retreat. Or about Cheyne Beach without recommending staying at the Cheyne Beach Caravan Park. This is easy to do on a personal web site, but there might be ethical problems on the BA web site.

    It would include Google Earth maps. I don't think that this would be an issue for a BA site as opposed to a personal site. They only require that their logo and copyright are included as far as I am aware. It would be good if these maps were annotated which I believe is possible.

    There is also the issue of keeping them updated.

    There would need to be an index so it could be searched including by species.

    It would also need to handle multiple write ups for sites. e.g. Dryandra State Forest and many other places. I probably only cover 10% if that of Dryandra on my web site. There must be many other other good sites at Dryandra.

  4. Part 2 - It was too large to post as one.

    Anyway, to the review of T&T 2nd Edition.

    The review notes "One annoying habit is that the species accounts mostly just cross-reference to the previous described sites, rather than actually give the best or most accessible sites for the species."

    This unfortunately needs to be the case. They can't mention another site, or else they would be criticised for not giving details on that site. They had to make a choice somewhere about how many sites to include. This will always be a limitation to any book like this. Hopefully they make some sort of mention of this in the introduction somewhere, or otherwise the reader would need to work this out. The 1st edition of T&T was to give locations where each species could be found, not necessarily the best location.

    "do we really need to be behind room N60 in order to see Striated Grasswren at Newman Caravan Park?" While the reference to room N60 is going too far, this is the most easily accessible site that I know for SG in WA, and the only area I have seen this species in WA.

    "eg. “Baudin’s Black-Cockatoo have been picked up…about 1km or so from the turn into Porongorup NP along the Mt Barker-Porongorup road” – when, in 1992?" This area is probably the most reliable area for Baudin's for someone doing a circuit of the south west. I have regularly seen them them in this area, and particularly the road up to the Tree In The Rock car park. A book like this needs to probably specify a place like this, but in practice we all know that in a week around the south west you will almost certainly come across this species without needing to visit the Porongurups.

    "Porongorups: Blue-breasted Fairy-wren is listed but not Red-winged". This is definitely an error. I have never seen BBFW in the Porongurups. They can be found at the Stirlings (including the Retreat). I haven't checked but is this an error carried over from the 1st Edition?

  5. Part 3 - Still too long.

    "Pelagics". This is mainly our fault. I don't think we have published this on birding-aus, at least specifically. They certainly never contacted me, or I would have corrected them. But it is not a critical error. If people contact me, I forward it on to Alan, and let also let them know (but I may be away so it could be delayed). So they get through to the right person eventually.

    "Seawatching Sites". Again, probably because we don't often post seawatch reports to birding-aus. I personally recommend Gracetown as the best and most accessible seawatch site. You can watch from just a few metres from your car (good if some weather comes in!). The birds are closer than Cape Leeuwin and most sites at Cape Naturaliste. As you enter Gracetown (Cowaramup Bay), there is a dirt road to the headland just to the north. Go to the end of the dirt road and watch from there.

    "Western Fieldwren" I did not know that Ron Johnstone supported this split. Last time I talked to him about this (quite some time ago though) he fairly strongly rejected this split and said that it was clinal. Say how much rufous you want and he will show you the specimen.

    "Roseate Tern" This is very common in mixed flocks with Common Terns at Broome in the wet season. They also breed at Point Quobba just offshore near Carnarvon (I was there in March and saw a large flock).

    "Rock Parrot" Rottnest near the Bathurst Point lighthouse is a very good chance still but not a certainty. Very good accessible sites are Lancelin and Bremer Bay.

    "Regent Parrot" I agree. I have almost never seen them at Dryandra. Seen them every time at 14 Mile Brook NR between Dryandra and Narrogin. But my best recommended site is the Stirling Range Retreat (same for Elegant Parrot). Good almost all year round there.

    "Western White-naped Honeyeater" My understanding is that Swan River Honeyeater will become the recommended name as it has precedence. I believe that the paper showing this split was published after the book went to press. No mention of Western Ground Parrot in the review. I think this was also published after the book went to press.

    As has been said in the review, this is a much needed addition to Australian birding literature. The second edition is almost twice as fat as the first edition. But there has to be a limit somewhere, and so quite a few of the better sites that we know of in WA have not been included.

  6. Thanks for adding these useful comments Frank. You are correct about Johnstone & Storr; WA Museum taxonomists have never supported the Western Fieldwren split and this has now been amended in the text.

  7. Additionally, re. Western White-naped Honeyeater - precedence applies to the specific scientific name, but not to common names. We feel that Swan River Honeyeater is an inappropriate name, given the bird does not occur along much of the Swan (may not have been the case when the name was coined), so are sticking with Western White-naped for now (but a more original but appropriate name would be welcome!). Refer to our previous post on the bird at for more explanation!

  8. Thanks for the information... I really love your blog posts... specially those that are related with birds.