Munghorn Gap

Munghorn Gap Bird Banding ~ 23rd & 24th August 2019 ~

Last weekend I was invited to join a bird ringing trip at Munghorn Gap, a nature reserve located about 2.5hrs inland from Newcastle, in the NSW Central Tablelands. Bird ringing (or banding as it is known here) has taken place at Munghorn for over 50 years, meaning that a vast amount of data has been collected on the size, health, site fidelity and longevity of birds within this population. 

For those who don't know, bird banding (ringing) consists of catching wild birds and fitting a uniquely numbered lightweight metal ring to their leg. Bird ringing generates information on the survival, productivity and movements of birds which allows us to understand how and why populations are changing so that the most effective conservation measures can be put in place to protect them. The Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme and British Trust for Ornithology websites both provide excellent information regarding the value of bird ringing/banding, including examples of some incredible migration events and longevity records, none of which would be known otherwise.

Anyway, I arrived at the campsite at Honeyeater Flat on Thursday evening, set up my tent and had some dinner before meeting the other banders once they returned from setting up nets for the follow day's session. On Friday (23rd) morning we banded at the Moolarben Picnic Area, a lovely woodland site with a spring situated in a gulley adjacent to the main walking track, which proved to be a real magnet for many species, including Honeyeaters, Thornbills and Fairy-wrens.

Over the course of the morning we caught a wide variety of species, from small Superb Fairy-wrens Malurus cyaneus and Striated Thornbills Acanthiza lineata, to medium-sized White-naped Honeyeaters Melithreptus lunatus and White-throated Treecreepers Cormobates leucophaea and we even got some larger species: Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae, Noisy Friarbird Philemon corniculatus and Australian King-parrot Alisterus scapularis! We also caught some of my favourite Australian birds so far: Varied Sittella Daphoenositta chrysoptera and Eastern Spinebill Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris, which were both amazing to see up close!

Superb Fairy-wren Malurus cyaneus
Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae
Varied Sittella Daphoenositta chrysoptera
Eastern Spinebill Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris

We banded until about 13:00 before taking down the nets and having some lunch. Once we were refuelled, we headed to our banding site for Saturday morning, which was only down the road from the campsite and set up the nets ready for the following morning. After a bit of down time back at the campsite, we went to a nearby pub for dinner and some warmth.

On Saturday morning we were up at the crack of dawn and soon had the nets open again - there was an initial rush of birds (mostly White-naped Honeyeaters) which steadily declined until we packed up around lunchtime. Over the course of the morning we caught a variety of species, including honeyeaters, treecreepers, finches, fairy-wrens and thornbills. My personal favourites were: White-plumed Honeyeater Ptilotula penicillata and Diamond Firetail Stagonopleura guttata. 

Diamond Firetail Stagonopleura guttata
White-plumed Honeyeater Ptilotula penicillata
Once we had packed up and had some lunch, we headed back to the campsite where I packed up my tent and all my gear into the car. Unfortunately I had an assignment due in that week which meant I couldn't stay for an extra day of banding. Over the course of the two sessions, a number of the birds we caught were re-captures (banded on previous trips), and a fair few were quite old: one of the White-plumed Honeyeaters (weighs ~20g) was banded at the site over 10 years ago and a Striated Thornbill (weighs ~7g) was banded nearly 14 years ago!! This goes to show the importance of banding in furthering our understanding of these birds in terms of how long they live and where they spend their time. 
Double-barred Finch Taeniopygia bichenovii
Yellow-tufted Honeyeater Lichenostomus melanops

My first pelagic!

Sydney Pelagic ~ 17th August 2019 ~

Well, it seems to have been an absolute age since I last updated my blog, for which I apologise - as usual, life got in the way! As some of you already know, I've been in Australia for the last 1.5 months & will be here for a further 10 months as I undertake an exchange year through my undergrad degree. As a (very) brief summary of the last month and a bit: I've attended a conference in Darwin & spent 10 days birding in the Northern Territory (mainly Kakadu & Litchfield NP - blog to come at some point), visited relatives on the Gold Coast, started Uni in Newcastle, gone on a whale-watching trip, bought a car, attended a Natural History Illustration Camp, experienced the Newy nightlife & visited some of Australia's stunning beaches.

Left: Burleigh Heads beach, QLD & Right: Rock pool at Merewether Rock Platform, NSW

That nicely brings us to this past weekend, when I drove down to Sydney on Friday evening (10/10 would not recommend!) before staying at the Bondi Beachouse YHA. Unfortunately I arrived after it got dark and so I didn't really fancy walking to the beach. Luckily there was a Thai restaurant nearby so that satiated my hunger & I got an early night. On Saturday morning I woke up before my 6am alarm, full of excitement for what lay ahead. I remembered to take my travel sickness tablet at 6.30am and then checked out of the YHA and drove to Rose Bay Wharf where the boat picked us up at 7am.

Great views of Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge as we headed out to sea

For the next 3 hours we made our way out to sea, and it didn't take long for the birds to be attracted to the smell of chum. As we made our way out of Sydney Harbour, Silver Gulls Larus novaehollandiae and Great Crested Terns Thalasseus bergii loitered around the boat, hopeful of some fishy matter being tossed their way. Before too long, the first 'proper' seabirds put in an appearance. First up was a Wedge-tailed Shearwater Ardenna pacifica, swiftly followed by a Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris and Brown Skua Catharacta antarctica.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater Ardenna pacifica
Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris
Brown Skua Stercorarius antarcticus

As we got further out, the gulls and terns stopped pursuing us, but the albatrosses and skuas continued to follow and increase in number. A bit further out, a White-capped (Shy) Albatross Thalassarche steadi joined the throng of birds following the boat's wake in a fierce battle to get the fish scraps being thrown out. We also bumped into a few Humpback Whales Megaptera novaeangliae which put on a fantastic display for us and stayed pretty close to the boat for about 15 minutes!
White-capped (Shy) Albatross Thalassarche steadi
White-capped (Shy) Albatross Thalassarche steadi
Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae
Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae

Once we got out to sea, the boat stopped and put out the slick. Over the time that we were stopped, we were treated to views of Fairy Prion Pachyptila turtur, White-faced Storm-petrel Pelagodroma marina and Providence Petrel Pterodroma solandri in addition to the constant presence of Brown Skuas and four species of Albatross (Black-browed, White-capped, Indian Yellow-nosed Thalassarche chlororhynchos and Campbell's Thalassarche impavida).
Fairy Prion Pachyptila turtur
Providence Petrel Pterodroma solandri
Brown Skua Stercorarius antarcticus
Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris
Black-browed Albatross Thalasarche melanophris
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche chlororhynchos
Campbell's Albatross Thalassarche impavida
On our way back, we came across a large feeding flock of Wedge-tailed and Hutton's/Fluttering Shearwaters, though they were pretty distant and by this point I was feeling a little worse for wear so I didn't manage any photos. In all, we spent around 9 hours at sea, saw 14 species and I realised that albatrosses are even bigger than I imagined them to be!! It's safe to say that the experience left me buzzing for days afterwards and I can't wait for my next pelagic!
Wedge-tailed Shearwater Ardenna pacifica

The Gambia: Part 2

The Gambia ~ 17th-28th December 2018 ~ 
Part 2: 22nd-25th

Continuing on from Part 1, here is the second part of my trip to The Gambia.

Day 6 (22nd): Rainbow to Janjanbureh

After meeting him at Birdfair, my dad had booked a 4 day (3 night) birding trip inland with Yaya Barry from Kingbirders. We were picked up at 0800 and spent virtually all day on the road, stopping for some birding at various points and a bit of a wait for the ferry at Soma to get to the North Bank. Yaya is a remarkable birder and was picking birds up left, right and centre, even while driving! We ended on 67 species for the day, many of which were new for the trip. My highlights were White-throated Bee-eaterGrasshopper BuzzardWhite-backed VultureTemminck's CourserNamaqua DoveCut-throat FinchNorthern Anteater-chatExclamatory Paradise WhydahSavile's Bustard and of course Egyptian Plover (of which we saw four individuals)!

Grasshopper Buzzard Butastur rufipennis
Temminck's Courser Cursorius temminckii
Cut-throat Finch Amadina fasciata
Northern Anteater-chat Myrmecocichla aethiops
Egyptian Plover Pluvianus aegyptius
Egyptian Plover Pluvianus aegyptius

Day 7 (23rd): Bao Baolong boat trip & birding around Janjanbureh

Our first boat trip started at 8.00 from the Baobab restaurant and started off pretty steadily, with some nice species to get us going: Bearded Barbet, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Grey-headed Kingfisher and Hadada Ibis.

Western Banded Snake Eagle Circaetus cinerascens
Grey-headed Kingfisher Halcyon leucocephala
Hadada Ibis Bostrychia hagedash
Further along the river, we came to a rather unassuming patch of vegetation on the riverbank where a few Swamp Flycatchers were foraging. Our guide then spotted a female Northern Puffback in the undergrowth, which perched out in the open very briefly. This was quickly followed by a Yellow-throated Leaflove and a very showy Oriole Warbler - one of my main targets for the entire trip! I would have been quite happy to turn around and head home right then, but we still had another hour and a half left!!
Swamp Flycatcher Muscicapa aquatica
Female Northern Puffback Dryoscopus gambensis
Oriole Warbler Hypergerus atriceps
One of the other species that I really hoped to see on my trip was African Finfoot, primarily to annoy my ringing trainer since he's been to The Gambia numerous times and never managed to see one. Finfoots are notoriously secretive and spend most of their time in the dark edges of rivers under cover. With this in mind, I really didn't expect to see one at all, so was ecstatic when our boat driver pointed one out... I didn't think the boat trip could get any better!

African Finfoot Podica senegalensis
The rest of the boat trip consisted of loads more cool birds and excellent views of some due to the great skill of our boat driver. Highlights from the rest of the trip were: Palm-nut Vultures virtually above our heads, a close Woodland Kingfisher, Long-crested Hawk Eagle, Red-throated Bee-eaters, very brief views of Shining Blue Kingfisher and a Violet Turaco. However that wasn't all... our keen-eyed boat driver had one more surprise in store for us: a second African Finfoot!! This one was much further away, but swam the width of the river in full view, before disappearing into some dense vegetation... excellent!

Palm-nut Vulture Gypohierax anglolensis
Woodland Kingfisher Halcyon senegalensis
Red-throated Bee-eaters Merops bulocki
We got dropped off a little bit before where we had started the boat trip so that we could walk back through some woodland and see some different species. It was well worth it as we saw quite a lot, most of which was new for the trip. Highlights were: Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Pin-tailed Whydah (non-breeding), Black-rumped Waxbill and Senegal Eremomela.

After lunch we headed out again, this time just driving around for a few hours, stopping anywhere that looked promising. This method was surprisingly productive, with 29 species seen, including Brown-rumped Bunting, Rufous-crowned Roller, a colony of Red-throated Bee-eaters, Shikra, Grey-headed Bush-shrike, Gabar Goshawk, Bruce's Green Pigeon, Four-banded Sandgrouse and a brief Long-tailed Nightjar in the last dregs of light.

Grey-headed Bush-shrike Malaconotus blanchoti
Gabar Goshawk Micronisus gabar
Bruce's Green Pigeon Treron waalia
Day 8 (24th) Janjanbereh to Tendaba and Tendaba area

We started the journey to Tendaba at 0800 and kicked the day off with Verreaux's Eagle Owl - a massive owl with pink eyelids! The next few birds were all new for the trip too - Bush Petronia, Vieillot's Barbet and Striped Kingfisher, the latter being a personal favourite for no particular reason. We stopped  few times on the way to Tendaba and saw a few more cool birds: African Pygmy Goose, Little Green Bee-eater, Rufous-crowned Roller, Dark Chanting Goshawk, White-backed Vulture, Brown Snake Eagle and my dad's only target for the whole trip besides Egyptian Plover: White-crested Helmetshrike. The undoubted highlight of the journey was non-avian and came in the form of a troop of Baboons crossing the road!

Verreaux's Eagle Owl Bubo lacteus
Striped Kingfisher Halycon chelicuti
Vieillot's Barbet Lybius vieilloti
Senegal Thick-knee Burhinus senegalensis
African Pygmy-goose Nettapus auritus 
Dark Chanting Goshawk Melierax metabates
White-crested Helmetshrike Prionops plumatus
Troop of c.30 Guinea Baboons Papio papio
After lunch and a siesta, we headed out for a walk with OJ, one of the guides at Tendaba. We spent a little while in one of the hides, where Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weaverBlack-rumped Waxbill, and Greater Blue-eared Starling came in for a drink from a small pool. Carrying on, we saw quite a few male Scarlet-chested Sunbirds which were spectacular, as well as a Spotted Thick-knee and lots of other species that we'd seen before.

Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weaver Plocepasser superciliosus
Greater Blue-eared Starling Lamprotomis chalybaeus
Spotted Thick-knee Burhinus capensis
Day 9 (25th) Tendaba boat trip & journey back to Sanyang

Christmas day couldn't have been much better really - taking a boat trip on the stunning River Gambia with my dad and seeing loads more cool birds and wildlife... it's just a shame that the rest of my family weren't there too.

The boat trip lasted just under 3hrs and in that time we saw 26 species. The best of the bunch from the boat trip were: excellent views of Yellow-billed Stork, Malachite and Pied Kingfisher and Great White Pelican, a male Montagu's Harrier, a brief Mouse-brown Sunbird and a Wooly-necked Stork just as we were leaving the mangroves.

Western Reef Egret Egretta gularis
Malachite Kingfisher Alcedo cristata
Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis
African Darter Anhinga rufa
African Darter Anhinga rufa
Male Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus
Yellow-billed Stork Mycteria ibis
Yellow-billed Stork pair Mycteria ibis
After the boat trip, we began the journey back to Sanyang, stopping off at various places, including Kampanti, a well-known raptor site. While we were there I saw one of my most wanted raptors - Bateleur Eagle! We saw quite a bit else at Kampanti, including a flock of White-crested Helmetshrikes, Pied-winged Swallows, African Yellow White-eye and great flight views of Grasshopper Buzzard. Once again we saw a remarkable amount of birds either from the car or by stopping at random places along the way, including Long-crested Eagle, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Violet-backed Sunbird and Pygmy Sunbird

Bateleur Eagle Terathopius ecaudatus
Pied-winged Swallow Hirundo leucosoma 
Grasshopper Buzzard Butastur rufipennis

If you made it this far, good job! I hope you enjoyed reading it & the remaining three days of my trip will be coming soon in Part 3 so keep an eye out for that.