Monday, December 8, 2014

Albany Pelagic Trip Report - 16 November 2014

Summary: Once again, the calm conditions made this a relatively disappointing trip with low species variety and bird activity in general. The highlights were the first records of White-chinned Petrel on a WA pelagic trip, and more Wandering Albatross (though fewer than were recorded on the Saturday). Overall, 8-9 tubenose species were recorded, depending on the specific identity of the Wandering Albatrosses seen.

White-chinned Petrel, a first for Albany pelagics. Photo courtesy Plaxy Barratt.

Albany Pelagic Trip Report - 15 November 2014

Summary: Overall, this was a disappointing trip, particularly for the pelagic veterans, as both species variety and bird activity in general were low, likely due to the calm conditions. The highlight was the large number of Wandering Albatross, more than we have seen on any previous Albany pelagic trip. However, the number of tubenose species recorded was a record low for Albany trips (seven or so, depending on the specific identity of the Wandering Albatrosses seen).

Immature Wandering-type Albatross. The plumage of this bird suggests it could be any of exulans, gibsoni or dabbenena

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The curious case of the Red-bellied Spinipig

NB: The following should be prefaced - in the manner of any modern climate debate - with “…I’m not a taxonomic scientist, BUT…”

The July release of the “Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Non-passerines” (del Hoyo & Collar, Lynx Edicions/BirdLife) [1] marks the start of the brave new era in which BirdLife International team up with the Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW) crew on the impressively ambitious, if slightly mad, project to review and illustrate the entirety of the world’s avifauna in two volumes. Since BirdLife Australia will adopt these changes by default, unfortunately this means Australia’s ‘official’ bird list is, yet again (groan), being decided by A BOOK. And in this case, a book extraordinarily revising all the species of the world on the premise of a single scientific paper, Tobias et al’s 2010 paper, “Quantitative limits for species delimitation” [2] [available open access here]. The Tobias paper outlines a hitherto untested numerical scoring method for defining whether a pair of related taxa are ‘distinct enough’ to qualify as separate species. The method uses sympatric (co-existing, hence undisputed) species pairs to calibrate a universal threshold, which can then be used to test allopatric (geographically separated) pairs, which can be much harder to define. The answer, it turns out, is 7.* 

In a rather left-field move, HBW/BirdlLife have thus resplit the Pilbara’s “Rufous-bellied Spinifex Pigeon” (or spinipig as the locals call them) Geophaps ferruginea, which compared to nominate plumifera (now White-bellied Spinifex Pigeon), is:
  • generally redder [ferruginea = rusty]
  • entirely red-brown below, lacking a white belly
  • richer red-brown above (plumifera more grey-brown)
  • only a grey and black pectoral band, i.e. lacks white band
  • slightly smaller
  • plume slightly shorter [3]
  • iris red to orange-red (cf. yellow to orange-yellow) [4]

"Red-bellied" Spinifex Pigeon Geophaps [plumifera] ferruginea, Wickham WA. Note the red (not grey-brown) back.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Herdsman Lake: Urban wetland hotspot

Conveniently located within a 10-15 minute drive of the city centre, Herdsman Lake is one of the most popular birding sites in Perth. Over 150 species have been recorded at the lake, and at any time of the year, a couple of hours of birding at Herdsman should yield 50+ species, increasing to 60-70+ when at its best. The major attraction is usually the wide variety of waterbirds, but a reasonable variety of bushbirds and raptors occur in the area, and if the water level is low enough waders can also occur (unfortunately a rare occurrence in recent years).

Australian Reed Warblers are common throughout the extensive typha beds at Herdsman Lake

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Albany Pelagic Trip Report - 4 May 2014

Summary: This trip was another excellent trip, following on from the Sunday trip. 13 tubenose species were recorded, highlighted by more excellent views of Black-bellied Storm-Petrels, a dark intermediate morph Soft-plumaged Petrel, and large numbers of Little Shearwaters. Two South Polar Skuas were also seen on the return journey, unfortunately views were again rather brief and distant, and several Arctic Terns were seen at the shelf. As on the Saturday trip, albatross numbers were notably low.

Arctic Tern, one of three present around the boat for an extended period, note the fine, neat dark trailing edge to the primaries and relatively short, dagger bill. Photo courtesy Bernie O'Keefe

Albany Pelagic Trip Report - 3 May 2014

Summary: This trip was another excellent trip, continuing the recent success of early May trips from Albany – at least18 tubenose species were seen, a record for Albany pelagics, highlighted by several prions, including a Fairy Prion (a rarity in WA). A South Polar Skua (and probably a second) were also seen, strengthening suspicions that the species is a regular passage migrant off the WA coast in April-May – unfortunately views were frustratingly brief and distant. Although we saw a good variety of species, total albatross numbers were notably low.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel are abundant on passage off WA at this time of year. Photo courtesy Stewart Ford.