Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Berlin Road Gems

Australasian Pipit

I travel the 6km length of Berlin Road twice daily, Monday through to Friday, on the way to and from Blackbutt. That, with few exceptions, has been the routine throughout the school year since late January 2006; I tend to avoid travelling to school during holiday times.

It’s a long transect which, on average, produces few birds of outstanding interest: Torresian Crows Corvus orru abound, closely challenged by Australian Magpie Cracticus tibicen. There are of course the ubiquitous Magpie-larks Grallina cyanoleuca and Crested Pigeons Ocyphaps lophotes. On occasions, the drive produces Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinus, Pied Butcherbird Cracticus nigrogularis or fleeting glimpses of Australasian Pipits Anthus novaehollandiae disappearing over barbed-wire fences into nearby thickets.

Perhaps then, not too surprisingly, whenever I, or both Fay and I, travel along Berlin Road we rarely expect to be amazed by any particular avian delights. The occasional Willie Wagtail Rhipidura leucophrys or Masked Lapwing Vanellus miles often serve as the highlights of the stretch. Otherwise it is a rather mundane trip.

Nor is there any apparent reason why anyone should become overly excited at the birding prospects of Berlin Road. From its T-junction with the Nanango Maidenwell Road it races, admittedly in a rather roller-coaster fashion for the first three kilometres, to its T-junction with the D’Aguilar Highway. There is only the dogleg by the former Gemstone Museum [long since gone] to break it’s otherwise seemingly unbending route. Even that is an illusion; the road does take slight turns as it traverses what is, primarily, open grazing land. Part of Tarong Energy's pine plantation skirts the road for a kilometre or so. The two small rainforest patches, secured behind fenced-off private property, have yet to be fully explored.

It has however had, and continues to have, its moments. Back in August 2010 we had crippling view of a Brown Falcon Falco berigora hunting the area, its manoeuvres leading us to discover eleven Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos Calyptorhynchus banksii seemingly hiding in a spreading tree. Earlier, in September 2009, we had our first Eastern Barn Owl Tyto javanica for the South Burnett along this stretch of road. In January 2009 it had been the Southern Boobook Ninox novaeseelandiae. The Nankeen [Australian] Kestrel Falco centrchroides perched atop a tall telegraph pole at the dogleg put in an unexpected appearance on 16 August 2009; the Black-shouldered [Australian] Kite Elanus axillaris in the following August. There was a Pallid Cuckoo Cacomantis pallidus in early January 2009 and Ground Cuckoo-shrikes Coracina maxima in January 2010.

However, perhaps the sighting of most merit for the road was back on 2 May 2010 when, returning home, coming out of the Gemstone Museum dogleg, I spotted an adult Brown Quail Corturnix ypsilphora escorting its young chick across the road. Fay and I returned to the spot on several occasions in the following few days but the quail never reappeared.

Following our failure, on Saturday 5 February [see earlier post], to find any signs of crakes or rails along Chippendale Road we turned back into Berlin Road, heading towards the D’Aguilar Highway. We had few hopes of coming across anything exciting. I had the vague notion of bearing right at the approaching T-junction and heading out to Rocky Creek Road, a stretch of dirt road that had, in the past, been very kind to us.

We were barely 50m past the last twist of the dogleg when a small flock of finch-types flew across the road ahead of us. We could immediately rule out Double-barred Finch Taeniopygia bichenovii; they were too dark. I pulled up opposite the bushes we had seen them land in and there, as clear as daylight, were six Chestnut-breasted Mannikins [Munias] Lonchura castaneothorax. Not a first for the South Burnett, we had noted them in the Murgon area back in January 2007, but nevertheless a first for Berlin Road and another addition to the 2011 Year List.

If that rare [for the area] sighting was not enough, in the next bush along, Fay spotted a trio [male with two females] of Superb Fairy-wrens Malurus cyaneus and while Fay was busily adding these to our list, I looked over my right shoulder, to the other side of the road, and observed a Tawny Grassbird Megalurus timoriensis alight atop a tall grass stalk. I then noted the Golden-headed Cisticola Cisticola exilis to the left and a little below the grassbird.

Image from

Zebra Finch

But wait, there was more! As Fay and I basked in the warm glow of so many unexpected new Berlin Road species, a small number of, again, finch-types fluttered down onto the road a little ahead of us. My initial reaction was to call Red-browed Finch Neochimea temporalis; I thought I had detected a flash of red in their faces. A closer inspection, via binoculars, showed them to be Zebra Finch Taeniopygia guttata – another new species for Berlin Road and another addition to the Year List.

Nor was that the end of the surprises Berlin Road held for us that morning. Continuing to the further end [nearer the D’Aguilar Highway] where I had originally noted the “crake-like” bird the previous Tuesday, we simply pulled up inside a farm driveway and waited. Within minutes, a number of Golden-headed Cisticolas appeared, as if out of thin air. They buzzed around, scolded and carried on with whatever it is cisticolas do best.

A pair of Tawny Grassbirds flitted by. We continued to wait. A Grey Teal Anas gracilis flew down onto the small dam. The almost obligatory Australian Magpie and Pied Butcherbird put in an appearance.

We waited a little more. A bird flitted over the vehicle, across Berlin Road and alighted on the fence on the opposite side of the road. One of us, probably me, muttered something along the lines of, “just another bloody grassbird.” It wasn’t. We’d both raised our binoculars to get a better view of the bird and almost simultaneously exclaimed, “No, it’s bloody not!”

Horsfield's Bushlark
Image by Brett Donald

It was a Horsfield’s [Singing] Bushlark Mirafra javanica– only the second we’d seen in the South Burnett and a first for Berlin Road. It was yet another addition to the 2011 Year List.

Our second Pallid Cuckoo for Berlin Road simply rounded off a near perfect morning of birding.

The climatic flood is over; long live the avian flood!

No comments:

Post a Comment