Category Archives: Bill Ramsay

North Island New Zealand birding cut short

On 9 March 2020, my wife Shirley and I flew to Auckland to commence a 25 day self-drive tour of the North Island of New Zealand. It was to be basically a sightseeing tour with several birding sites included.

NZ does not have an extensive list of endemic birds. Excluding extinct and formerly present, the NZ list is about 369 species. Deducting all introduced, migratory, visitors, pelagic species, and species only found on NZ’s Sub-Antarctic Islands, this leaves about 52 endemics, some of which are only found on either the North or South Island. Not a big list, but if you want to see these endemics, you have to visit NZ.

All the photos were taken by me and when known I have included the Maori name of the bird in brackets in the captions and the text.

Our first birding site was Tiritiri Matangi Island, a 75 minute ferry trip from Auckland. In 1974 the island became a recreation reserve. Since then, 280,000 trees have been planted by volunteers known as the ‘spade brigade’, all mammalian predators have been removed, and a number of endangered bird and reptile species introduced. Twenty NZ bird endemics have been recorded on the island, 12 of these introduced and eight have found their own way. The island is managed by the Department of Conservation in conjunction with the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi Inc.

On arrival at the island, the visitors were sorted into groups of 10 to12 for a guided tour, led by a volunteer. The first bird we saw on the walk was a male Brown Teal, which was a bit of a surprise as they are described as timid, skulking and nocturnal, with a habitat of tidal creeks, lagoons, swamps and adjacent wet pasture.

Brown Teal – male (Pateke)

Walking along the track there were many smaller birds to be seen such as Silvereye (Tauhou), Grey Warbler (Riririro), Whitehead (Popokatea) and North Island Robin (Toutouwai). There were numerous nesting boxes for Blue (Little) Penguins (Korora), some with glass windows in the top so that the birds could be viewed.

North Island Robin – imm. male (Toutouwai)

We left the coastal track and started the ascent to higher ground through wet forest, using the extensive boardwalks provided. There were several NZ Pigeons (Kereru) to be seen. Being the only mainland native pigeon, this species has the unique and important role in the forest ecosystem of dispersing the fruits of native species.

NZ Pigeon (Kereru)

Further along the boardwalk we were able to observe a Red-crowned Parakeet (Kakariki) feeding in the leaf litter – they feed from the canopy down to ground level. They are now extinct in the wild on the mainland and rated ‘at risk’.

Red-crowned Parakeet (Kakariki)

There are three ‘honeyeaters’ found in NZ. All were present on the island. Feeders were provided. In the forest they were of a clever design with small openings so that the bigger Tuis could not access the food. Tuis had to feed from the flat bed feeders at the feeding station at the Visitors Centre. The two smaller honeyeaters, Stitchbird (Hihi), Bellbird (Korimako) and other smaller birds, were able to feed from the forest feeders.

Stitchbird – female (Hihi)
Stitchbird – female (Hihi)
Tui – male

At the top of the ascent, the vegetation opened up and we walked along a road with wide grass verges. We were excited to see several Takahe – Purple Swamphens on steroids. They are flightless and can weigh up to 3kg. This species was thought to be extinct for about 50 years until a small population was found in the south west of the South Island in 1948. They feed all day on fern rhizomes and leaf bases by pulling them out with their bill. They hold the extracted plant on their feet, macerate the base digesting only the plant juices, not the fibres, which remain as typical green thin sausage-shaped droppings of largely unaltered fibres. Takahes can produce up to 6m of droppings in a day.

Takahe

We were even more excited to look up a side track and see a North Island Kokako. The bird is shy and our guide was amazed when our bird was on the ground out in the open. There was a South Island Kokako, but that is now extinct. The bird we watched seemed quite content to let us photograph it for a short time, but when it decided to move, it took off and pronked like an antelope with quite high jumps. To see one on the ground was unusual, but to see it pronk, was a real treat.

North Island Kokako

We lunched at the island’s excellent Visitor Centre. No food was available, but there were numerous outdoor tables and benches, very comprehensive information boards for all the endemics, and flat top feeders that the Tuis had taken over.

On the walk down the hill back to the ferry we had good views of a North Island Saddleback (Tieke) feeding in one of the trees. I think the Kiwis are trying to get their species count up. There is a very similar South Island Saddleback, which is distinguished from the North Island Saddleback by the lack of the narrow faint yellow line on the back between the black and the chestnut.

North Island Saddleback (Tieke)

We left the island and returned to Auckland by ferry. Tiritiri Matangi Island is impressive for the birds and the management and should be No 1 on any birder’s visit to Auckland.

The next site on our list was the Firth of Thames, which is a Ramsar Site. It is a large coastal reserve, bounded by a peninsula and mountains, consisting of shallow marine water, mud, grass flats, mangrove swamp, saltmarsh and swampland. It includes a globally rare land formation of graded shell beach ridges which support grazing. It is an important site for roosting, wintering and staging wading birds. What more could a birder keen on waders want?

We moved to accommodation in Thames, and checked out the west coast of the firth on the first day, plus a brief tour of the Coromandel Peninsula.

We drove around a corner and there was a huge flock of South Island Pied Oystercatchers (SIPOs) with the Maori name of Torea. The flock in the photo extended just as far back to the left. Several cars stopped and many photographs were taken, but the SIPOs just stood there unconcerned. SIPOs breed on the estuaries of the braided rivers on the South Island and migrate to the estuaries of the North Island for the winter. These were early arrivals. My app notes that they occasionally get lost on migration. I looked very hard to see if any of the SIPOs had a red leg flag with 1N (the bird that we, and many others twitched at Jam Jerrup in 2018) but I couldn’t find one.

South Island Pied Oystercatchers (Torea)

The SIPO with aberrant plumage definitely stands out from the pack.

South Island Pied Oystercatcher with aberrant plumage

We stopped for a picnic lunch at a roadside park, overlooking a spit. There were numerous Red-billed (Silver) Gulls (Tarapunga) and White-fronted Terns (Tara) resting on the spit. The Maori name for this species is only the generic name for Tern. This might be because White-fronted Terns are the most common terns in New Zealand.

White-fronted Tern (Tara)

The No 1 target species for this trip was a Wrybill. On our visit to the South Island in 2013 we were too late and they had all moved north. People who know me won’t be surprised by the following. I had done my research, and the Miranda Shorebird Centre was an excellent chance. Previous March records indicated good numbers. Either side of high tide was best for viewing. This was not a problem as the trip itinerary had been planned around a mid-morning high tide at Miranda. To make sure of good viewing, a scope and tripod had been booked for hire from Miranda three months previously. On the morning the weather was perfect (not pre-planned), and after picking up the scope we went to a hide overlooking a pond that was covered in waders. There were hundreds of SIPOs, Bar-tailed Godwits (Kuaka), Pied Stilts (Poaka), and of course Wrybills (Ngutuparore) – 1,400 being the official count. There were also lesser numbers of Red Knot (Huahou) and Pacific Golden Plover.

SIPOs, Bar-tailed Godwits & Pied Stilts, Miranda Shorebird Centre

Wrybill is the only species in the world with a bill that is bent sideways, and it always bends to the right. A Wrybill is about the same size as a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. The Maori name is straightforward (pardon the pun) – ngutu means ‘bill’ and pare means ‘turned to the side’.

Wrybills (Ngutuparore) at rest, Miranda Shorebird Centre
Wrybills (Ngutuparore) in flight, Miranda Shorebird Centre

We left Miranda very happy and continued on our way, mainly sightseeing, but a bit of birding en route. But on the way to Napier, on Day No 10, we received a text from our elder daughter, quickly followed by a telephone call, advising that due to Covid-19 issues, DFAT was considering closing the border and we should return home. We booked a return flight, departing Auckland early morning Day No 12, and returned to 14 days of home quarantine. So our holiday and birding was cut well short. We loved what we saw and what we did, and hope one day to return and complete our holiday, perhaps including return visits to Tiritiri Matangi Island and Miranda Shorebird Centre.

Bill Ramsay

Weekdays outing to Reef Island

4 March 2020
Photographs by John Cantwell, member

We finally assembled after numbers of our group had encountered traffic jams at different stages of their drives. Bill Ramsay was leader and had carefully chosen the date to coincide with a low tide which allows people to walk across to the island on the stony causeway. Twenty-four started the day under cloudy and humid conditions. There was no wind and the light cloudy conditions were very good for seeing birds. Before we reached the causeway we noted numerous Black Swans and Silver Gulls. And then a Striated Fieldwren called from the coastal heath. Excellent views were achieved.

Striated Fieldwren - John Cantwell
Striated Fieldwren

A couple of Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes were also present nearby. At the start of the causeway we encountered a highlight of the walk – several Pacific Golden Plovers roosted and foraged at the water’s edge with the bonus of a couple of Ruddy Turnstones beside them. Other sightings included the more-expected Crested and Caspian Terns, Australian Pied Oystercatcher and Little Pied, Little Black and Pied Cormorants. At water’s edge we watched Red-necked Stints and Red-capped Plovers and quite a few people also added Sharp-tailed and Curlew Sandpipers. Both adult and immature Pacific Gulls were present, close to a few White-faced Herons and an occasional Great Egret. Ibises were only represented by Australian Whites and spoonbills by a few Royals. A group encountered Cape Barren Geese which then joined the list. A male White-fronted Chat flew over as we settled into lunch.

Group at lunchbreak - John Cantwell
The group at lunch break

The afternoon walk saw the party separate into smaller groups as people found their comfortable afternoon speed. The advance party recorded Grey-tailed Tattlers which was a first for many. If measured by “lifers” the day was well rated as several people were smiling broadly as they realised they had seen three, four or even five new species. By bird call we had 44 species and we thanked Bill enthusiastically for introducing many to the location.

Diane Tweeddale, Coordinator BirdLife Melbourne weekdays outings

Chandler Park Wetland Concept Plan

You are invited to have your say

Because we hire the Balwyn Community Centre, the City of Boroondara has identified BirdLife Melbourne as an interested stakeholder in the proposed Chandler Park Wetland. BirdLife Melbourne Members are invited to have their say.

For details refer to below for the letter received and the two page flyer that was enclosed.

Contributor: Bill Ramsay

Chandler Wetlands No 2

Chandler Wetlands No 3

Chandler Wetlands No 4

 

 

300 species at last!

In November 2013 I posted a note on the Blog asking ‘When will we get to 300?’ At that time a total of 295 species had been seen on MELBOCA/BirdLife Melbourne Outings since the first outing bird list was posted on what is now the BirdLife Melbourne Local Website.

After two years, I am very pleased to announce that this target has now been achieved, with the sighting of a Dollarbird at Chinamans Bridge, on the Bailieston Area Weekdays Outing (Outing No 496) 17 November 2015. The bird was observed by Geoff Russell, John Prytherch and Leonie Robbins. This was a good sighting of a Dollarbird, close to the southern limit of its range.

It has been a long process reaching the total of 300 species. We started at a great rate of knots but the species count slowed down, almost coming to a halt.

Some of the target benchmarks are:

  • Outing No 1 to Yellingbo on 4 February 2007 where 37 species were seen.
  • For a long time the number of species seen exceeded the number of outings, but this came to a halt in 2012. A Spotted Harrier, Species No 270, seen on Outing No 268 to the ETP on 27 May 2012 was the last new species to be seen when the number of species seen exceeded the number of outings.
  • From November 2013 it was a slow grind to get the next five species. The list slowly grew with Gull-billed Tern (Species No 296 on Outing No 420), Ruff (Species No 297 on Outing No 430), Painted Honeyeater and Regent Honeyeater (Species Nos 298 and 299 on Outing No 483, and finally Dollarbird (Species No 300 on Outing No 296).

For lists of species seen on all outings go to http://www.birdlifemelbourne.org.au/outings/

Is a new target of 310 species realistic? I will have to wait and see.

Bill Ramsay

North Americans at the Western Treatment Plant

In October 2013, BirdLife Melbourne was asked by Legacy Tours if we could assist with taking a party of North Americans birding at the Western Treatment Plant and the You Yangs Regional Reserve. Over the following months there was a number of emails exchanged and the date was set for 12 October 2014, for a group of 11 birders.

As I drove down the Monash Freeway on my way to Werribee I thought how lucky are we to have cracked such a wonderful day weatherwise. The hot air ballooners must have agreed as I could see six in the clear blue sky. We met up at about 8:20 am at the Paradise Rd gate in Pt Wilson Rd, where my drivers for the day, Gina Hopkins, Dave Torr and Euan Moore and Jenny Rolland were waiting for us. Fortunately Gina had spent the previous Tuesday at the WTP and knew where the birds were. Michael from Legacy Tours had checked through Gina’s list of sightings of the previous Tuesday and highlighted the target species so that we didn’t waste time.

We headed for the T Section Lagoons with a few stops along the Pt Wilson Rd to check out what was in the plantation. To our surprise and everybody’s delight, Jenny spotted a Tawny Frogmouth. All the drivers were quite surprised as for all it was their first sighting of a Tawny Frogmouth at the WTP. T Section was very productive with Red-necked Avocets, Marsh Sandpiper and the Golden-headed Cisticolas singing strongly and happy to come very close. We spent some time at the regular crake spot, and eventually everybody managed to see a Baillon’s Crake.

Golden-headed Cisticola
Golden-headed Cisticola

Next stop was Western Lagoons where we observed Royal &andYellow-billed Spoonbills and a pair of Brolga. As Banded Stilt was a high priority we drove down Austin Rd to see a very large flock of Banded Stilts feeding in the shallow water. As a bonus Zebra Finches sat on the road or the fence wires to give everybody a good look. The day’s list was quickly mounting and we hadn’t yet been into the main parts of the WTP. A quick conference was required to review the plan for the day. It was quickly decided to revert to Plan B, abandon the You Yangs and return to the WTP after lunch. This eased the pressure on the drivers as we had more time to do the WTP justice.

Some of the group on Austin Road
Some of the group on Austin Road

Because of the extra time we were able to do the full circuit back to T Section which was a very fortunate move. Another treat, about eight Gull-billed Terns at T Section, that were not there on our first visit. Eight is a large number of Gull-billed Terns for the WTP. We squeezed in a quick trio to Kirk Pt to check out what was on the rocks, and hopefully pick up a Striated Fieldwren. One was heard calling loudly but would not show, but a Singing Honeyeater did.

Next we joined the visitors on their bus and headed to Lara for lunch and a toilet stop. While waiting in the loo queue, Jenny heard some Purple-crowned Lorikeets in a flowering ironbark. Something to look forward to after lunch. Lunch, provided by Legacy Tours, was at a bakery and some of the North Americans tried that famous Aussie food of a pie and sauce out of a paper bag. After observing both Purple- crowned and Musk Lorikeets it was back to the WTP to see some ducks. We slowly ticked off most of the ducks but could not find the Freckled Duck that was there on Tuesday. The plan was to be back at the bus by 5:00 pm, but going to Dave’s sites for successful looks at Blue-billed Duck and Australian Spotted Crakes, it was obvious that we were going to be late. This wasn’t helped when Euan and Jenny’s car spotted the only Cape Barren Goose for the day, requiring the three other cars to do a U-turn.

We eventually made it back to the bus at 5:45 pm. The North Americans had a day to remember and were very appreciative of BirdLife Melbourne’s efforts, with Legacy Tours giving BirdLife Melbourne a very generous cash donation. Final tally for the day? Not quite sure but very, very close to 100 species. My thanks to Gina, Dave, Jenny and Euan for showing the visitors around one of Melbourne’s great birding sites.

Contributor and Photographer: Bill Ramsay

What species is seen most on outings?

BirdLife Melbourne has recently completed 400 outings for Members. The Outing Bird Lists are posted on the BirdLife Melbourne Local Website at http://www.birdlifemelbourne.org.au/outings/.

Outings go back to MELBOCA days, with the first posted outing Yellingbo Reserve on 7 February 2007. Outings have ranged over a wide variety of habitats and distances from Melbourne. The furthest outing from Melbourne was the Photography Group Weekend Outing to Echuca and Moama, and the closest, the many outings to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, a popular site for many leaders. Most outings are within 100 km of Melbourne, with only 15 being beyond this limit. Bird Lists have been received for 396 of the outings.

The two challenges I put to you are:

  1. Name in order, the ten species that have been seen most on outings, and
  2. Name in order, the five species that have been seen on the most consecutive outings.

For the answers, go to http://www.birdlifemelbourne.org.au/outings/BlogAnswers.pdf

Bill Ramsay, BirdLife Melbourne Local Website Administrator

Post AGM outing to the Western Treatment Plant

24 May 2014

BirdLife Melbourne again organised an outing to the Western Treatment Plant (WTP) after the BirdLife Australia AGM for interstate and country delegates attending the Network Day and the AGM. Five cars were required for the 14 delegates (a big increase on the five who went to the WTP last year). We met at the Paradise Rd Gate at about 12:00 noon, visited Western Lagoons, T Section Lagoons and travelled to the Borrow Pit via Beach Rd and the coast route. There were numerous stops to observe the birds along the way at all the known hot spots. The outing ended at about 4:00 pm as most delegates had planes or trains to catch to return home.

A total of 92 species were seen or heard on the day, a very acceptable total for four hours when many of the summer waders were absent. Unfortunately we could not produce an Orange-bellied Parrot or Northern Shoveler like last year. To see the bird list for the day go to http://www.birdlifemelbourne.org.au/outings/site-lists/wtp-werribee.html. For about two thirds of the delegates it was their first visit to the WTP and not surprisingly they were most impressed with the size of the site and the number of birds. Many expressed a wish to visit the site again.

My thanks to my drivers, Greg Buzza, Euan Moore and Jenny Rolland, Sonja Ross and John Stirling who made the day possible.

Bill Ramsay – Outing Organiser

When will we get to 300?

Braeside Park - Bill Ramsay

Bird lists from outings have been posted on the MELBOCA Website (revised to the BirdLife Melbourne Local Website following the amalgamation) since Outing No 1 at Yellingbo on 4 February 2007. This outing produced a list of 37 species. For many years the total number of species seen on outings was always greater than the number of outings. This was undoubtedly helped by the Photography Group venturing to Bendigo and Echuca for extended outings. However, slowly but surely, and finally on Outing No 270, again at Yellingbo, on 3 June 2012, the number of outings and the total number of species seen became equal. Since then the gap has widened, with the number of outings (now 370) steadily surpassing the total number of 295 species seen.

But it hasn’t all been bad news as outing participants have seen some great birds to add to our list in 2013. These include Northern Shoveler, Southern Giant-Petrel, Grey Goshawk, Arctic Jaeger, Orange-bellied Parrot and Sooty Owl.

For details of all species seen on outings go to http://www.birdlifemelbourne.org.au/outings/

As I post bird lists from recent outings I now wonder when we will get the extra 5 species to take us from our current number of 295 to 300. I look at the list of species seen and wonder what is so hard, with a bit of determination and a few extra kilometres, in finding a Terek Sandpiper, a Ruff, a Gull-billed Tern, an Eastern Koel, a Dollarbird, a Grey-crowned Babbler or a Spotted Quail-thrush, 5 of which are probably the most likely to get us to 300.
Of course if one of the outings was to venture on a pelagic we could get them all in one go. It would just need a couple of the frequently seen Albatrosses, a Storm-Petrel, a Petrel and a Shearwater other than Short-tailed Shearwater. Not a big ask for a more adventurous outing.

The BirdLife Australia Working List of Birds now includes Greylag Goose and Muscovy Duck, but I am not that desperate to accept these species without concrete evidence that these aren’t just stray ferals and are in fact a member of a sustainable wild population. I have just about dismissed these species as potential additions.

So that is the challenge for outing leaders – another 5 species to get us to 300. When will it happen?

Bill Ramsay

BirdLife Melbourne at the Alphington Wetlands Music Festival

Image

At the invitation of the South Alphington & Fairfield Civic Association, BirdLife Melbourne participated in the Alphington Wetlands Music Festival on Sunday 17 November.  Fortunately our role was not to perform on stage but to staff an information marquee with other environmental groups, including the Friends of Merri Creek and the Darebin Parklands Association who had their own marquees.

After a horrific few days weatherwise in the lead up week, the weather was great – blue sky, low 20’s, lots of sunshine and a very gentle breeze.  This no doubt contributed to the high numbers who attended the festival.  I estimate that we had up to 300 people stop at our marquee.  Many were families, the kids enticed to stop with the offer of some bird swap cards and the parents then checking out the display of BirdLife Australia material that was on show.  The Victorian Birds in Backyard A4 handouts were probably the biggest hit with the adults, many checking through the birds displayed pointing out to one of our volunteers all the birds they had seen in their garden.

The several BirdLife Melbourne Committee Members who worked shifts throughout the day answered numerous questions, promoted BirdLife Australia and BirdLife Melbourne and tried to identify birds seen by many from some very vague descriptions.

BirdLife Melbourne tent doing brisk business

It was a great community day with many families sitting on the grass to listen to the music, but more importantly for BirdLife Melbourne, gave us exposure to many people who expressed some interest in birds.