Jonny Rankin in Australia: Black Duck Beauty

JR feature

As mentioned in my last post expectation was high for my southern hemisphere debut, working life hadn’t allowed me to mentally prepare quite as much as I would have liked but I still managed to create slightly obsessive wall chart of Australian birds to I.D! Plus the girlfriend’s holiday snaps had wet my appetite for the whole new families of birds I would encounter.

I am delighted to report that I completed my first long haul and unaccompanied flight without issue. I am a grown man and capable of organising myself in most situations but public transport is only acceptable to me with travel beers and I had a lot of travelling to do, like 24 hours of travelling. I had serious worries about the logistics of changing flights and meeting up with my Aussie connection but they were unfounded. I was delivered to Sydney airport with nothing but carbon guilt and a groaning liver.

Once I was installed on the northern beaches I applied the same approach I have at home – walking good habitat and seeing what I could find. The honey-pot near my digs was North Head and specifically just above Shelly Beach, which had some excellent coastal scrub and also a vantage over the Tasman Sea from the Bower Street viewpoint.

This gained me my first passerines of the trip with White-browed Scrubwren and Grey Fantail. An acclimatisation walk on my arrival had amassed twenty more common species including Pacific Black Duck (hurrah!), Swamphens, Lorikeets, Cockatoos and even a flyover White-bellied Sea Eagle.

The Pacific Black Duck was a big bird for me but not as big as my first Albatross! I achieved this on the second day of my visit, a Black-browed looking very awesome and very albatrossy off North Head.

So the first couple of days offered a good spread of some thirty suburban and coastal species. This, however, did little to prepare me for the deluge of awesome I would experience on the third day. Tuesday 10th September was when I truly arrived in Australia, under the expert guidance of Mr Barry Lancaster.

In preparing for the trip I Googled amongst other things ‘bird watching Sydney’ on the first page returned was a link to the birdingpal website and specifically Barry’s contact details. I hadn’t come across the birdingpal site before; it is a truly wonderful principle. Effectively connecting bird watchers from around the globe – to do a days birding free of charge!

UK birding can at times be extremely financially driven; the withholding of photos to the highest bidder and the pushing of book sales all cumulating in the annual Birdfair, where seemingly everyone is seeking to buy and sell their services and wares. So I love that such an entity as birdingpal exists, it feels subversive and awesome!

I suppose the success of birdingpal relies upon the quality of the pal you connect with; luckily I hit the jackpot with Barry! I can honestly say that without his local and species knowledge my trip would have been a lot less memorable, not least because I would have encountered about half as many birds!

Barry picked me up from digs pre-dawn and we made our way to Cumberland State Forest via an Australian Brush-turkey, which was merrily scratching around, next to a tennis court! What an awesome and truly bizarre species, notable as my first Megapode.

Australian Brush-turkey, Cumberland State Forest, September 2013

As the sun hit the trees in the Cumberland State Forest it was chaos, absolute avian bedlam, Bell Miners and Eastern Whipbirds called all around and the bushes buzzed with Superb Fairy Wrens. Then it started – a raw deluge of parrots! In half an hour we encountered; Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, Little and Long-billed Corrella and Galah! Along with the ever present Rainbow Lorikeet and Sulphur Crested Cockatoos. Add to this the very smart Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike and face filling views of Pacific Baza and you can imagine I was pretty chuffed!


Long-billed Corrella (top) and Pacific Baza, Cumberland State Forest, September 2013

We then moved on further west to the Maraylya area where Barry had some top roadside habitats pinned down. This resulted in rash of new passerines for my trip list: Little Wattlebird, Rufous Whistler, Yellow and Striated Thornbill as well as Silvereye. To top it all off a Wedge-tailed Eagle soared over! What a bird – eagles are always day makers.

Like any good birder wildfowl were high on my ‘wish list’ and I was anxious to connect with some of Aussies best, fortunately Barry had a super productive farm reservoir lined up and my dreams were fulfilled; Black Swan, Australian Wood Duck, Pacific Black Duck, Grey and Chestnut Teal plus Hardheads all looked resplendent in the morning light. On the same pool was a species pair of both Black-fronted and Red-kneed Dotterel.

Now you are safely assured that I connected with the good stuff – wildfowl. I won’t go through a bird-by-bird low down of the day but I have to share some highlights: Spotted Pardalote were wonderful to watch as they attended their bank-side nest hole, Satin Bowerbird proudly strutting around its bower was unforgettable as was seeing the ground-loving Red-rumped Parrot.

IMG_6401Satin Bowerbird bower, Windsor Area 2013

Another huge bonus was seeing Eastern Grey Kangaroo and also my first venomous snake of the trip – a Red-bellied Black!

IMG_6381Red-bellied Black, Windsor Area, September 2013

We finished the day with the horizon full of smoke from some pretty severe bush fires not far away, this made for an amazing backdrop to Bushell’s Lagoon which also hosted: Brown Goshawk, Australasian Darter, Whistling Kite and Pied Stilt!

So, Tuesday 10th September 2013 goes down as a seismic day for me; a crash course in Aussie birds, the realisation of the awesome that is birdingpal and the pleasure of meeting Mr Barry Lancaster. Chatting with Barry was amazing, the circumstance of his arriving in Australia would make an epic read; he travelled overland from the UK initially in a Bedford Van! Then island hopping down the Pacific Rim to reach Australia where he settled and started a family. His love of birds and enjoyment in showing the birds of Greater Sydney to others means he has shown literally hundreds of visitors around, and I am sure he has made a great many holidays. I am certainly eternally grateful for both his time and company.


There are two other standout days (avian wise) one was spending the day out on the Tasman Sea and visiting the continental shelf and the other was with Barry visiting the Royal National Park. I hope to share these experiences on further posts…

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About the author

Passionate about animal welfare and conservation, veggie and dairy-free, I live in the Wiltshire (UK) countryside. I co-founded Birders Against Wildlife Crime and Birds Korea. Trustee of the League against Cruel Sports On Twitter @charliemoores

One Comment

  1. Tristan Reid says:

    Absolutely fantastic post Jonny (though couldn’t read some of it as I (thankfully) had my duck filter on) ;-) ! Some awesome birds there and that snake looks pretty cool! I love the concept of BirdingPal – this is what birding should be about IMHO :-)

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