A Streaked Shearwater gliding over the surface of the oceanThose of you who have read some of my previous articles will know that I failed dismally on my goal of seeing 400 Australian bird species in the 2015 calendar year. I managed a grand total of 277 which, considering I had a trip to Cairns, a trip to Brisbane, a trip to Melbourne and a trip to Canberra, as well as two pelagic trips and quite a lot of days out in my local area of the beautiful Illawarra region, was not very flattering. I had a secondary goal of adding 50 new species to my Australian life list, which faired somewhat better with 37 new species observed. This all came about after my curiosity was roused from watching the movie “The Big Year” starring Owen Wilson, Jack Black and Steve Martin. Worth the watch!

Well, it is on again, with the same targets, for 2016 and January got me off to a flyer (bit of a bird pun there!) with 161 species recorded in January, including¬†6 new species for my life list. Is this something to get into a flap about? Read on …

My wife, children and friends get constantly bombarded with my ‘Bad Dad Jokes’ and I once went on a weekend with a few mates for two days and was recorded as telling 100 jokes in the two and half days we were away (and that included being not allowed to tell a joke for one whole day) – life’s too serious!!!

I digress, and have no idea why I felt the need to say that in the middle of my February (Bigger) Big Year article!

How did February go? Well, not as well as January, but that is no surprise, as January involved a wonderful trip to some great places in south-west Western Australia. Given that I work Monday to Friday every week, February has only four Saturdays and Sundays in it (compared with the 5 of each in January), so that was against me to start with. I also have two beautiful daughters, whom I love dearly, who have birthdays in February and both had sleepover birthday parties this year. I still have the bags under my eyes!

Birthdays and “little or no sleep” sleepovers aside, the month started off nicely, with the sighting of a White-headed Pigeon on my way to work on the first day. They often fly over the freeway in the section between Bulli Pass and Mount Ousley, so I knew I would get one eventually (I actually ended up seeing 4 of them at different times during the month, or maybe it was just the same one stalking me!).

My first real birding trip for the month was to Budderoo Plateau and Barren Grounds Nature Reserve. I visited these places in late January, but it was very late in the day and was very misty. On the 6th of February I headed up there early in the morning and spent a lovely couple of hours wandering the tracks and heath looking for Ground Parrots. I did not see any of these, but was fortunate to spend half an hour watching and photographing Eastern Bristlebirds. these elusive birds are very hard to spot during the breeding season, but seem to start to relax in February. I had previously not been able to capture any good images of these on any of my past visits, so was delighted to get some on this day. I also saw a Grey Shrike-Thrush feeding on one of the tracks, so that gave me my second new bird for the month.

The next day I went to the wetlands near Hayward’s Bay, in the hope of finding the secretive Little Bittern, but was again disappointed. I did see an Australasian Darter sitting on a dead tree drying its wings, but that was the only new bird for the year on that day.

The following weekend was dedicated to setting up for my youngest daughter’s 10th birthday party and sleepover, and then cleaning up the following day, and spending a few hours sorting through the thousands of pictures I had taken since last August and had downloaded to my computer, but had not really sorted through thoroughly. This is an amazingly time consuming job. Each picture needs to be gone into, enlarged and checked for any focus problems or fuzziness. It takes about 5-10 seconds per image, which doesn’t sound like much but, when you are sorting out 6000 images, and you are getting through around 500 per hour, a whole day can disappear just like that.

The next weekend was my other daughter’s 13th birthday party and (non) sleepover! Needless to say that was another weekend that I was not able to go out and look for any new species, but I did manage to sight a pair of Eastern Rosellas flying over the road, while I was driving to the shops to get a bottle of red to settle my nerves.

The Streaked Shearwater

On the last Saturday of the month (the 27th) I had booked myself onto a boat out to the deep oceans off of Kiama on a SOSSA Pelagic trip. I went on two of these last year, and they were very fruitful indeed.  When I reviewed my life list of Australian bird species prior to my 2015 (Little) Big Year, I realised that there were very large gaps in the ocean birds sections. My two trips last year netted me some 30 species all up and 24 of these were new species for me. Obviously, I was not expecting the same result this year, but was hopeful of a large number of bird species to add to my list for the year.

Well, I am yet to have a calm clear day out on one of these Pelagic trips, and the 27th was no different. Cyclone Winston, which caused so much destruction in Fiji, was still causing rough seas all along the Australian east coast, and seas of 2.5 metres, with winds of 25-30 km/hour were forecast – fun! It was rough but, thankfully, the 1-6 mm of rain that was forecast ended up being 1mm and was pretty much over in the first hour of the trip. The sun came out and the rest of the day was warm. There was talk of the chance of some more northern species birds being pushed south by the cyclone and giving us some rarities for the day. Sadly, the birds were not aware of the script and, not only did these “blow-ins” not show up, but most of the southern species were not around either. The leader of the group took us some 38 km off shore looking for anything decent, but without much success. The trip yielded just 9 species to add to my 2016, but there was one new species for my life list – yay! A Streaked Shearwater was spotted far from the boat, but that was enough for me. I also managed to get a record shot of it with the camera as well.

Well a fairly quiet month, but a few highlights, and it could have been a lot worse. I got a total of 14 new species for my 2016 list, which now stands at 175, and the Streaked Shearwater was a new species for my Life list, which now stands at 475.

February’s New Hatchlings for my (Bigger) Big Year List:

Great-winged Petrel
Streaked Shearwater (New)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater
Flesh-footed Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
Short-tailed Shearwater
Black-browed Albatross
Shy Albatross
Arctic Jaeger
White-headed Pigeon
Topknot Pigeon
Eastern Rosella
Grey Shrike-thrush