Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tarong Power Station

Image from Courier-Mail

There are those birding occasions when you get a tantalizing glimpse of a particularly magnificent bird. In a perfect world, or given a magic wand, you’d no doubt prolong that agonizing brevity into an endless moment of bliss but the reality is that there are no fairy godmothers and you have to make do with what Father Time allots you.

Such was our dilemma on Saturday [12 February] when Fay and I decided to put in another visit to the nearby Tarong Power Station.

Fay and I, the only birders with security clearance, and permission, to enter Tarong Energy property, have now been covering the power station for just less than two years. I’ll need to present them with a preliminary report in April 2011.

It was at the end of the session. We’d driven as close to the woodland area as the prevailing track conditions allowed. Water continues to lie around; deep ruts warn of previous unfortunates who had ignored the muddy conditions. We walked, as we had done in the early years of our birding career together back on Cannock Chase in Staffordshire.

The birding was good if not particularly spectacular. The Little Crow Corvus bennetti was a first for the Tarong area. The distinctive call of the Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformis was a keen reminder that this parasitic bird is still around. Views of Speckled Warbler Chthonicola sagittata and White-browed Scrubwren Sericornis frontalis are always welcome. Both the White-throated Treecreeper Cormobates leucophaea and Eastern Yellow Robin Eopsaltria australis again failed to be in an appearance but sang their little hearts out.

Having walked around the woodland, duly recorded the 31 species present, we made our way back to the car. A rather gorgeous butterfly momentarily distracted us and it was while I was photographing it that we heard the unfamiliar call. It was not a new call; we’d heard it on previous occasions but not in the South Burnett and not for a very long time. Its name was on the tip of the tongue when I caught the merest glimpse of a bird skulking in some thickets.

Photo by D.A. King
Immature Black-faced Monarch, note absence of facial black markings.

As we often do, we approached the bird from slightly different angles to maximise our chances of getting good enough views to put a name to the quarry. With binoculars focused on the bird it was readily identified as a Black-faced Monarch Monarcha melanopsis: grey upper parts contrasting sharply with the rich rufous underparts. The absence of any facial black [forehead and throat] earmarked it as an immature specimen.

We ended the morning’s outing by pulling up at the Meandu Creek bridge crossing which on the prvious visit had provided us with a bagful of gems, including crippling views of a Tawny Grassbird Megalurus timoriensis. This was not a repeat occasion. We came away without a single sighting and the merest of calls from Little Friarbird Philemon citreogularis, Australian Magpie Cracticus tibicen and Striped Honeyeater Plectorhyncha lanceolata.

Meandu Creek, a little past the bridge, continues to be turbid and muddy.

Breakfast beckoned.

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!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Chippendale Road Birding

The main "escape" route to Brisbane closed to traffic
Back in early January, Fay and I had considered ourselves lucky to have found a small window of opportunity, sneaking off in between rain squalls to survey our local national park, culminating with breakfast at the former Maidenwell Post Office [see previous post]. This last weekend we decided it would be fairly safe to venture forth into the wider South Burnett in our continuing [continuous] pursuit of birds.

Only last Tuesday, on the way to work via Berlin Road, I had a fleeting glimpse of a crake-like bird scurrying across the road from the small dam on the right into pastures on the other side. It had been only the briefest of glimpses, I was negotiating a slight bend in the road, but my best guess at the time would have been the Spotless Crake Porzana tabuensis. Sadly, a careful check through a number of field guides [between us Fay and I own perhaps a dozen, some admittedly a little dated now] brought up the very distinct possibility of juvenile Dusky Moorhen Gallinula tenebrosa.

It was Fay who suggested we try Chippendale Road for the crake/rail. She reasoned that if I had seen one scurrying across Berlin Road [a reasonably well used bitumen road] then there would probably be even better prospects of seeing the species along Chippendale Road, a less used grass and dirt track, especially near the small dam some 150m inside the Berlin Road gate end.

Barker Creek flooded, no way through to Kingaroy
For those unfamiliar with the local geography [and/or don’t have access to Google Earth] from Allen Road, Chippendale Road is readily reached via Berlin Road: right out of our property, a right at the T-junction onto the Nanango Maidenwell Road, heading towards Tarong Power Station, a left just before the bridge over Meandu Creek and right a little after the dogleg at the old museum. There is a gate warning off trespassers but both Fay and I have security passes [and permission] to enter Tarong Energy property for the purposes of birdwatching.

The small dam, where we had hopes off perhaps emulating my experiences of the previous Tuesday lay about 150m further along. We managed 145m. The dam had burst its wall and water was flowing across the dirt road. A week or more of this had clearly damaged the road, making crossing a rather precarious matter. We decided that discretion was the better part of valour [have you ever tried digging out a bogged 4-wheel drive miles from the nearest point of help or where there are no suitable hitching posts for a winch?]. Besides, we had good views of most of the dam while sitting in the vehicle and it provided the added bonus of serving as a very adequate hide.

A few years back our son had presented me with an I-pod for Christmas, thought it was time I joined the 21st century. Australia is poor in modern technological birding aids [no BirdGuides here] but we do have a 10-disc series of Australian bird song, ranging from the Ostrich Struthio camelus to the Australian Raven Corvus coronoides. Along with Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto [in A Major, K.622] I had copied these songs onto aforesaid I-pod. Last Christmas I treated myself to one of those gadgets that enables you to play your I-pod tunes earplug free; that is, a modern old-fashioned tape for attracting birds!

Unsure as to exactly which crake or rail I had seen that Tuesday we played all the possible Rallidae. All to no avail, not a single crake or rail so much as stuck out a beak from among the tall grasses around us.

Not that the outing to Chippendale Road went without some compensations. The female Leaden Flycatcher Myiagra rubecula was a gem. The Eastern Yellow Robin Eopsaltria australis, while welcome, continues to frustrate. As the crow flies we are a mere few miles from Chippendale Road and yet have never recorded the robin along Allen Road. Birding friends of ours, Robert & Colleen Fingland, live more or less the same distance from Chippendale Road, albeit in a different direction, and yet they have recorded both the Eastern Yellow and Red-capped Petroica goodenovii Robins on their property.

From Chippendale Road we ventured further along Berlin Road, towards its junction with the D’Aguilar Highway to where I had spotted that crake-like bird on Tuesday but that will have to wait for a subsequent post.

Today’s Tally: Eastern Whipbird, Pied Butcherbird, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Willie Wagtail [a flycatcher by any other name], Magpie-lark [the perennial taxonomic shifter], Australian Magpie, Torresian Crow, Lewin’s Honeyeater, Pale-headed Rosella, Silvereye, Grey Shrike-thrush, Crested Pigeon, Sriped Honeyeater, Laughing Kookaburra, Eastern Yellow Robin, Bar-shouldered Dove, Leaden Flycatcher, Noisy Friarbird, Little friarbird and Sacred Kingfisher.

Another South Burnett road cut off.