Friday, December 27, 2013

Esperance Pelagic Trip Report - 30 November 2013

Summary: This was the first pelagic trip we've organised off Esperance, so we were unsure exactly what to expect. Although we did not pick up any particularly unusual sightings, overall it was a successful trip, and likely to be well worth repeating. The highlights were a high counts of Wandering(-type) Albatross and White-faced Storm-Petrel, several Great-winged Petrel of the NZ race gouldi ('Grey-faced Petrel') with extensive pale faces, and a good number of Short-tailed Shearwaters – although common off Esperance, the species has only been recorded once before on WA pelagic trips (a single bird off Albany) and was a lifer for several on board. Overall, at least 11 tubenose species were recorded.

Wandering-type Albatross. The heavy build and extensive white in plumage suggests Snowy Albatross, but male Gibson's or Tristan are also possibilities. Photo courtesy Dan Mantle.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hillarys Pelagic Trip Report - 4 August 2013

Participants: Alan Collins (Organiser), John Graff (Organiser), Sue Abbotts, Ben Allen, Steve Burns, Wes Cooper, Cheryl Davis, Alison Gye, William Gye, Murray Hennessy, Mark Henryon, John Litherland, Josan Moss, Clive Nealon, Simon Nevill, Diego Pitzalis, Jill Rowbottom, Georgina Steytler

Conditions: Winds were forecast to be north-westerly at less than 10knts during the morning increasing to 15-20knt as the day progressed. Seas were forecast up to 2m, with a swell of 1m. Conditions on the day were roughly as forecast. Sea temperatures were in the range of 20-21 degrees Celsius.

Report: This trip produced a fairly standard variety of species, however overall numbers were low, with the notable exception of Soft-plumaged Petrels. The low numbers of Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross was a surprise for this time of year, and the complete absence of Hutton’s Shearwater even more so as August is generally the peak passage time for the species off the south-west coasts (they had been recorded on all ten previous Hillarys Pelagics in August).

Cape Petrel, race australe (Snares Cape Petrel). Note the relatively limited white in the upperwing, particularly the extensive dark division between the two white patches.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

South-west Endemics Part 4: Red-capped Parrot - The illegitimate child of inseparable parents?

The species name spurius, meaning illegitimate, might seem an incongruous name for a bird so elegant and beautiful - albeit slightly gaudy – as southwest WA’s endemic Red-capped Parrot Purpureicephalus spurius. The name stems from the fact that immatures are so plain as to hardly seem related to the extraordinarily vivid, though not often seen, bright adult male. The majority of birds observed lie between these extremes, with a partial or duller version of the male plumage, and one might be tempted to label these as females. However - perhaps obviously, given the extreme gender ratio this would imply - identifying the sex of adult birds is not so straightforward. In fact HANZAB [1] states that females are “very similar to male and often inseparable”.

An immature Red-capped Parrot, the 'illegitimate child' that gives the species its Latin name. It is thought to be impossible to sex immatures on plumage characteristics, but if this is an older immature (as suggested by the mauve breast), then it is probably a female, as males acquire a red cap more rapidly than females [2].

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Albany Pelagic Trip Report - 5 May 2013

Participants: Alan Collins (Organiser), John Graff (Organiser), Sue Abbotts, Xenia Dennett, Stewart Ford, Alison Gye, William Gye, Jane Hogben, Ross Hogben, John Lillywhite, Dan Mantle, Michael Morcombe, Simon Nevill, Glen Pacey, Ray Turnbull, John Weigel

Conditions: Seas were forecast to be around 1m, with swell to 2-3m, and light NE’ly winds. Conditions were generally as forecast, but the wind was light-moderate from the SE throughout the day. Overall, conditions were fairly typical for an Albany trip

Following on from a successful Saturday trip, this was another excellent trip with at least 13 tubenose species recorded, highlighted by a pair of Sooty Albatross and a Black-bellied Storm-Petrel, along with another South Polar Skua.

The second Sooty Albatross of the day. The buffy collar indicates an immature bird.

Albany Pelagic Trip Report - 4 May 2013

Participants: Alan Collins (Organiser), John Graff (Organiser), Sue Abbotts, Xenia Dennett, Stewart Ford, Peter Huggins, Darryl Jones, John Lillywhite, Dan Mantle, Michael Morcombe, Simon Nevill, Glen Pacey, Jon Pridham, Ray Turnbull, John Weigel

Conditions: Seas were forecast to 1m, with swell 1.5-2.5m, and light SE’ly winds. Conditions were reasonably close to the forecast though it was a little rougher in the morning, even within King George Sound, flattening through the day.

This was an excellent trip - 11 tubenose species were seen, but it was the skuas and terns that provided the major highlights with three South Polar Skuas, a breeding plumaged Arctic Tern, and at least one Long-tailed Jaeger seen.

The second South Polar Skua seen on the day. A dark bird but note the overall slimmer build (cf. Brown), very dark underwing lining, and slight pale nape.

Friday, May 3, 2013

South-west Endemics Part 3: Western Wattlebird

For visiting birders seeking the 15 bird species endemic to south-west Western Australia, Western Wattlebird Anthochaera lunulata may well be one of the first endemics you see after stepping off the plane. Or, as at least one recent experience has shown, it might be one of the last you see before you leave the state cursing it! This enigmatic species also has the annoying habit of suddenly disappearing from the Perth metropolitan area the week before the WA Twitchathon in early December. It seems that the patchy distribution and erratic local movements of Western Wattlebird are mysterious to say the least.

Western Wattlebird Anthochaera lunulata in favoured coastal plain habitat, with flowering Banksia and Woollybush. Note the long silvery cheek stripe, plain crown and relatively unstreaked back.

The range of Western Wattlebird stretches from Geraldton to Israelite Bay, though rarely inland of Great Southern Hwy north of the Stirling Ranges. But within this range, as noted by Serventy & Whittell [1], they are ‘rather local in distribution’. A recent straw poll on the local birdswa mailing list revealed they are unknown in some Perth gardens, despite being common nearby. In some areas, at some times of the year – one contributor suggested autumn - they can become noticeably common and vocal in suburban gardens, though any pattern of local movement seems hard to pin down. In the Perth hills (and elsewhere, eg. Yanchep) they seem associated with flowering Parrotbush Banksia (Dryandra) sessilis; in coastal plain Banksia woodland they are possibly (anecdotally) associated with the long-flowering Woollybush Adenanthos sericeus - both fairly common plants. Yet in the 1985 Perth Metropolitan Bird Project surveys [2] they were ‘often present’ at only 18 metro sites, and no seasonal fluctuation was detected. In other words, they are found where you find them!  

Friday, March 29, 2013

Hillarys Pelagic Trip Report - 24 March 2013

Participants: Alan Collins (Organiser), John Graff (Organiser), Sue Abbotts, Robin Ashford, Martin Cake, Cheryl Davis, Rose Ferrell, Stewart Ford, Michael Hancock, Mark Henryon, Nigel Jackett, Darryl Jones, Val La May, John McMullan, Rob Morris, Clive Nealon, Margot Oorebeek, Annette Park, Robyn Pickering, Louis Purdy, Peter Taylor, Ray Turnbull, Peter White

Conditions: Winds were forecast to be south-easterly at 12-15knts during the morning shifting to an 18knt southerly in the afternoon, with seas 2m and swell of 1.5-2m. Conditions on the day were roughly as forecast. Sea temperatures were in the range of 22-23 degrees.

This was the first pelagic off Hillarys run in March, and the earliest in the year a trip has been run off Hillarys so it was interesting to see what was about. There was no repeat of the high Streaked Shearwater numbers from last year’s April trip and these seem to have been a cyclone-related occurrence. Overall though it was a reasonable trip, with 7 true seabirds recorded, along with a variety of jaegers and terns. Unfortunately, no unusual species were seen and the majority of species did not spend much time (if any) close to the boat.

Flesh-footed Shearwater, the everpresent at all stops on the trip.

Pirates Parade: The Autumn Jaeger Migration at Woodman Point

Many birders are familiar with the annual migration of waders between the Arctic tundra and Australia, but some may not realize a similar migration takes place just offshore this time of year – that of jaegers head north towards their far northern summer breeding grounds. An excellent place to witness this spectacle is at Woodman Point south of Fremantle, where the long sandy spit jutting around 1.5kms into Cockburn Sound provides a perfect platform for jaeger-watching. 
A patient seawatch here during the migration (which builds through March to peak around mid-late April) will usually reveal a steady procession of jaegers flying northwards, as well as some hanging around to feed by kleptoparasitic attacks on gulls (chasing them until they regurgitate food). Woodman Point is a perfect site to witness these spectacular aerial chases, sitting directly next to a seagull ‘highway’ between Carnac Island and a local rubbish tip – for the jaegers, a somewhat different diet to their summer fare of lemmings and voles! 
Two intermediate-morph Arctic Jaegers Stercorarius parasiticus close in on a Silver Gull at Woodman Point.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Franklin’s Gull at Cervantes

Breaking a bit of a dry spell for vagrant gulls in the south-west (well, twitchable ones at least), a co-operative Franklin’s Gull has been present in the Cervantes town beach area for at least 6-8 weeks. It has mostly been seen in and around a small park outside the caravan park entrance (end of Aragon St), or on the adjacent beach, in the company of Silver Gulls.

Vagrant Franklin’s Gull Leucophaeus pipixcan on the beach at Cervantes

Photos clearly show all the hallmarks of Franklin’s Gull: slightly smaller than Silver Gull, with darker grey upperparts; more compact body in flight; short tail with diagnostic grey centre (unique among adult gulls); well-developed black half-hood; prominent thick white eye crescents; black bill with red tip, and black legs. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

ID Feature: Corellas

Corellas in the south-west (particularly the Perth area) must be some of the most commonly misidentified birds in WA, particularly by visiting birders. Indeed a quick Google Image Search for Western Corella will turn up photos of all three species labelled as Western. A large part of the problem is caused by confusion over the distribution of the three corella species in the south-west; many field guides do not show introduced populations of Little and (Eastern) Long-billed Corellas, and/or show Western Corella as regularly occurring in Perth. Even the original Thomas & Thomas’ Complete Guide to Finding the Birds of Australia (widely regarded as THE where-to-find guide for Australia) lists Western Corella as a key species at Lake Monger! Fortunately, this has been corrected in the recently published new edition. The reality is that the vast majority of corellas in the Perth metropolitan area are Little or Long-billed Corellas, with very few Western Corellas occurring.

Western Corellas of the northern race derbyi at New Norcia. Note the long bill, relatively long crest (though not fully extended), and strong red lores not extending over eye.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The cline and fall of Western Fieldwren

The Western Fieldwren (Calamanthus [campestris] montanellus) has long had an on-again, off-again place on the Australian list. Even as the 1926 official RAOU Checklist [1] listed four Fieldwrens - Striated (fuliginosus), Rufous (campestris), Rusty (isabellinus/rubiginosus), and ‘Rock Fieldwren’ (montanellus) – the contemporary list of Mathews [2] listed only Striated and Rufous as species. A parallel situation exists today, with the international taxonomy of the IOC [3] recognizing montanellus as the full species Western Fieldwren, while Clements and the ‘official’ checklist of Christidis & Boles [4] lump it with Rufous. But it’s easy to forget that back then – until 1983 in fact - the ‘lumpers’ routinely aligned montanellus with Striated Fieldwren, on the basis of their shared olive and yellow (and lack of rufous) colouration. 

Given that interest is now stirring over how the ‘official’ Australian list will be maintained in the future, it’s worth a look back over the long-simmering arguments around the species status of the Western Fieldwren. 

Western Fieldwren Calamanthus [campestris] montanellus from the Stirling Ranges. Note the olive toned and heavily-streaked back; creamy-buffy underparts; russet on head confined to forehead; limited rufous in rump and tailbase; brown (not chestnut) lores; dull tail tips. This individual has a little more rufous than a ‘classic’ montanellus, notably in the cap and fringing on the wings.
[Image © Kay Parkin (,
used with permission]