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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org).
Appendix D, Directory
WA sightings of note should be reported to email@example.com, which are listed on http://birdswa.org.au/sightings.htm after verification. This is the sightings website routinely used by locals, and we would encourage visitors to do the same.
“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.
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,
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 café 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 http://wabirdingblog.blogspot.com/2011/05/endemic-in-waiting-western-white-naped.html).
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!
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 of the new version of Thomas & Thomas can be found at: