Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Nudgee Nudgee, wink wink, say no more...

Our first full weekend in Aus. We headed off south to meet a bunch of bird-banders - for so 'tis termed outside of Britain - at the Border Ranges National Park, just over the New South Wales border. En route, we thought we'd pay a visit to what looked like a bit of tidal estuary; break the journey at least. We arrived at Nudgee Beach to the sight of water lapping the carpark fringes. Clearly, the tide was going to have the last word over any plans to see mud-loving birds! Undaunted, we set off around the short boardwalk to the one and only hide that we encountered on our travels. The path leads through some rather nice Grey Mangrove woodland, which is always a treat for the mangrove-less European. A forest of aerial roots, light beaming through the canopy and the salt-laden scent of the mud make it a wholly satisfying experience. The birds were there, though thin on the ground - it was getting hot by this stage - Mangrove Gerygones flitted through the canopy doing a good impression of Chiffchaffs, an Australian Spotted Crake trotted quietly through the roots and a rather bored-looking Osprey sat on an exposed branch by the hide. Rainbow Bee-eaters and soaring Brahminy, Whistling and Black Kites were a good supporting cast, with Collared Kingfishers prowling for the abundant small fish in the myriad of pools.

We were also slightly mystified by the number of single men wandering around the boardwalk, particularly as some of them looked fairly blatantly as if they batted for the other side, so to speak (we were later told that the site has a bit of a reputation as a meeting ground for gay men, which explained that, though why in a mangrove swamp? The mosquitoes must be a bit of a passion-killer).

After a brief tussle with the Brisbane traffic, we were suddenly out on the road to Tamborine, winding through gently agricultural country, interspersed with Eucalypt woodland and homesteads. The countryside then changed around Beaudesert, becoming more determinedly agricultural with - frustratingly - a lot of shallow wetlands alongside the road, often chock-full of birds, but nowhere safe to stop and look. We finally left the Mt Lindsey Highway at Innisplain and wound our way into the mountains along an increasingly wriggly and potholed track which eventually gave up all pretence of being a tarmac surface and settled dolefully into a corrugated dirt track.

The Pinnacle (that lump on the right) and the view into New South Wales.

We stopped for lunch at a lookout, surrounded by the chiming calls of Bell Miners and the weirdly melodic wails of Pied Currawongs (try this link for an idea of their call). Finally we returned to the car and headed into the National Park proper. The weather began to close in a little, with swirling cloud dropping down, so we were slightly apprehensive that the journey would be in vain, but after a four hour drive (for a single weekend's banding! Youch!) we were keen to get out of the car and move around again. After encountering several groups of Brown Cuckoo-doves and the odd Crimson Rosella on the road, we finally arrived to find the early-birds putting up nets. A quick intro to Graham (or maybe Graeme), Brenda and Stephen and we dived in to help learn the net positions and some of the birds we'd be handling. Immediately there were some new species: Yellow-throated Scrubwren, Large-billed Scrubwren, Grey Fantail, Brown Gerygone in the nets, whilst Green Catbirds and Noisy Pittas called unseen from the surrounding forest. The cloud, and the temperature, continued to fall, so the nets were furled for the day, tents erected and we sat around and waited patiently for Jon - leader of the pack - to arrive. In the gathering gloom, a Satin Bowerbird paid us a fleeting visit, before deciding that we were not going to be any use to him (not quite blue enough with cold, I suspect).

Grey Fantail. One of the more abundant species in this part of the forest, where they inhabit the canopy and edge habitats, frequently flitting out into the open to snatch insects, with tail fanned behind.

The more colourful relative: Rufous Fantail. Behaves in a similar fashion to Grey Fantail, but seemed to inhabit the understorey rather than the canopy.

Jon arrived and we were all informed about what we'd be doing the next morning, whilst a Fawn-footed Melamys, one of Australia's few native rodent species, scurried around behind the boxes of food, trying to get a snack.

Somewhere in the middle of the night, the rain finally arrived. A blaring alarm at about three a.m. signalled that someone hadn't quite worked out their new car's safety features. The rain then came a little more persistently, and by 4.30, the designated getting-up-and-getting-out time, we knew we weren't going to be banding any time soon. Bravely - or was it foolishly? - I left Na curled up in the warm and got up to see what everyone else was doing, to discover that the rain was expected to be short-lived and that with any luck we might get going at about 7.30. I returned to my bedclothes, where, to my horror, I discovered that the water level was rising. Inside the tent. It's amazing how fast you can move when you have to. The bedclothes and all our belongings were rapidly thrown into the car to prevent them getting any wetter, and we slunk over to the barbeque shelter, feeling a little sorry for ourselves, to have breakfast.

Antarctic Beeches; Nothofagus antarctica. Truly magnificent trees, which my photo does no justice to at all.

True to the forecast, by 7.30 the rain had eased enough to get out and get on. The two of us piled into Jon's car and headed off to the 'Antarctic Beeches' lookout, where we were to put in our effort. The skies cleared in that tropical manner - one moment thick cold cloud, the next a clear blue with added steam - and we banded. There's a lot of effort involved in setting nets for relatively few birds, when compared with our own sites here, but when the background chorus is Rufous Scrub-birds and Albert's Lyrebirds, with Paradise Riflebirds (one of Australia's four Bird-of-Paradise species) and Rose Robins backing them up, you don't really care. Besides, the species being banded were all fairly new to us, so there was a lot to learn about deciding on their age and sex.

Yellow-throated Scrubwren - a male (black lores), and apparently an adult (crisp black centres to the median and greater coverts [the small feathers on the wing, just above my index finger], with broad olive fringes)

The same male, demonstrating exactly why he's called a Yellow-throated Scrubwren

A succession of scrubwrens, thornbills and fantails was enlivened by a very smart Bassian Thrush - somewhat like a large and scaly Mistle Thrush (or a White's Thrush if you're of the birdy persuasion) - and a couple of Yellow Robins; I was then handed a suspiciously large and lively bird-bag and instructed not to look in closely before opening it. I carefully slid my hand around to get the bird inside into a safe grip through the bag (a useful trick at times), then carefully opened the drawstring to be met with a rather long, hook-tipped bill and a baleful beady yellow eye at the bottom of the bag. A Pied Currawong. It was eventually ringed with minimal blood loss (on my part - none on it's part), measured, photographed and released with some alacrity.

Jon and Naomi deal with a Bassian Thrush

I take instruction from Jon on the most appropriate way to handle a currawong ('I'm not touching that; you can have it', was, I think, what Jon actually said). Photo courtesy Naomi Barker

That's why it's called a Pied Currawong. Photo courtesy Naomi Barker

Ready to fire. Note the careful distance maintained between bird and anything remotely sensitive on the body. Photo courtesy Naomi Barker

We eventually tidied up and headed back to base to help finish off their day. A similar mix of species had been caught near the campsite, rounded off with a fine Rufous Fantail. As the day drew to a close, the weather began to close in again. Na pottered off to nap in the relocated tent - now on higher ground - whilst I sat out and did a spot of birding. The rainfall radar suggested some heavy rain to come, and the cloud thickened perceptibly. Suddenly the sky grew blacker and blacker. And blacker. Within about 10 minutes, the wind picked up and within another five the trees were lashing like the masts of a yacht on a lively sea. There were a couple of rumbles of thunder - the equivalent of the cloud clearing it's throat for the main event - and then the rain hit. Like some over-the-top scene in a film, water poured out of the sky, and Na emerged from the tent and joined us in the barbeque shelter at a pace that would have stunned Usain Bolt. After 10 or 15 minutes the rain and wind settled into a 'normal' thunderstorm mode, and we all gradually relaxed again, to the background rumble of the occasional tree falling in the forest around us.

A surprisingly uneventful night passed, and we set up for the final morning, all together at a third site just down the road. The whole forest still seemed to be saturated with rainwater, so as the rising sun lifted the temperature, everything steamed. Aside from the steam, the rain had brought out a sever attack of the leeches. These seem to have a bit of an action-hero complex, as not only do they attack from the ground, they drop from the trees and attach to your neck, ear or even eye (for one unfortunate person we met, in any case)! This final ringing session produced such delights as a Pale-yellow Robin, a couple of Golden Whistlers, Russet-tailed Thrush and, best of all, an Azure Kingfisher. A final tally of some 130 birds over the weekend seemed to be a very good return, judging by the happiness shown by Jon, and we headed back to take lunch, pack up and enjoy a final walk from the campsite before tackling the road back to Palmwoods.

A rather beautiful skink, living in a rotten log along the path near base camp...

...and this is the neighbour: a Black-bellied Swamp Snake. Rather small and very elegant, this is a venomous but not particularly dangerous species - chief food items frogs and skinks. Living about a metre from each other, we wondered whether snake viewed skink as a larder, of skink thought it better to keep your enemy in plain view.

Brindle Creek steaming in the morning sun. You can't make out the leeches from this distance.

Grey Shrike Thrush.

The Greater Peeved, or White-browed, Scrubwren. A bird which has evolved a perpetually grumpy expression.

Female Golden Whistler. Pretty...

...but not as spectacular as a male. Not the best photo out there, but a stunningly-bright yellow. Fine, fine birds.

Azure Kingfisher. The camera didn't pick this up, but under the wings, along the flanks, the bird has the most stunning lilac wash I have ever seen.

Azure (you don't say!) Kingfisher.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Devon, i just ventured out to Nudgee Beach with my wife and dog and had the exact same feeling as you did, we have just moved up from melb and just felt it to be abit strange out there.