Saturday, May 21, 2011


Image via

McLaren Vale
The idea was to use Staffordshire Stray as a vehicle for those birding trips beyond Allen Road and the wider South Burnett region. It seemed that our excursion to South Australia, more specifically to McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley, with quick jaunts into the Adelaide Hills and the Clare Valley [the latter purely for nostalgic reasons going back to 1989] would provide the ideal starting point for the revival of this blog. And it almost has.

South Australia was never going to be a purely birding trip, the area is overflowing with good wine- some of the reds would compete more than favourably with the finest from most other viticultural corners around the globe and a good Clare Valley riesling is to die for. Our travelling companions, while having a general interest in birds- Tom’s imitations of the Pied Butcherbird Cracticus nigrogularis call are something else-their watching rarely extends beyond feeding their backyard birds. They do however share a passion with us for good food and fine wine. Ann’s ability to unearth local Brisbane gastronomic gems has become legendary.

Our forebodings of this trip as a birding venture were borne out, just as our hopes of tasting a large variety of top Australian wines was equally fulfilled. As the saying goes, you can’t have your cake [or in this instance a drop of top shiraz] and eat [drink] it.

We started the trip in our usual manner, at the airport, each having to guess as to which species would be ticked first on arrival. Fay opted for the humble Rock Dove Columba livia while I called Australian Magpie Cracticus tibicen. It was a Magpie-lark Grallina cyanoleuca!

No sooner had we unpacked and put ourselves around the first cup of tea than we began adding new additions to the 2011 Year List. Jessica’s Place, in Vine Street, McLaren Vale [highly recommended], had only a small postage stamp of a backyard but it almost immediately provided us with New Holland Honeyeater Phylidonyris novaehollandiae. This dapper little bird featured each morning during our brief stay here.

The humble Common Blackbird Turdus merula, so beloved of English poets, was as common here as it was around Attlee Crescent in Rugeley, Staffordshire. House Sparrows Passer domesticus, Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris and, at only a small stretch of the avian imagination, Spotted Doves Strepopelia cinensis made the place a Little England beyond the White Cliffs, not that I suppose any self-respecting South Australian would welcome that particular patchwork quilt.

It didn’t take long to discover a small park less than a hundred metres from our accommodation. It became our early morning haven – both Fay and I are early risers, Tom and Ann tend to linger a little longer beneath the bedcovers. The park was good for the Adelaide race of the Crimson Rosella Platycercus elegans: Clements [6th Edition, 2007] has the bird as a full species, Playycercus adelaidae. It was also a favourite haunt of the ubiquitous Magpie-lark and Crested Pigeon Ocyphaps lophotes, the colourful Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus, the raucous Galah Eolophus roseicapillus and the sombre Little Crow Corvus bennetti. The ever-present Red Wattlebird Anthochaera carunculata was another addition to the Year List.

Purple-gaped Honeyeater

On the first of only two serious birding trips we added a lifer to our list, a Purple-gaped Honeyeater Lichenostomus cratitius. The Little Raven Corvus mellori, first encountered on our previous 1989 trip to South Australia, paled into insignificance.

From McLaren Vale we made our way towards the Barossa Valley, via a quick stop at Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills. It was disappointing, tourism, or rather the need to appeal to the tourist dollar, seems to have taken the soul out of the place or perhaps time had smoothed over some of the wrinkles that had been present in 1989. Then it had come across as German, today it oozes tourism – and the coffee we had at some unmemorable and now forgotten café was terrible- coffee that would have been an indictable offence in the homeland of the area’s pioneering fathers.

To add insult to injury we added only two birds to the Trip List, Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo Calyptorrhynchus funerus and Australian King-Parrot Alisterus scapularis.

We settled ourselves into Cabernet Cottage, in Mill Street, a stone’s throw from Tanunda’s main thoroughfare. It wasn’t a patch on Jessica’s Place but it served the purpose and there was the brisk walk alongside the hospital to the large parkland area where the birds were, well, more or less similar to those observed in Vine Street. As an alternative we did on a couple of occasions turn right out of the front gate, cross the main street and made our way down to the bridge over the North Para River where we met a retired schoolteacher who along with his wife, Fay, now runs a B&B nearby. The Golden Whistler Pachycephala pectoralis was among the last new additions to the Trip List.

The birding eased, as much to do with an adverse change in the weather as anything else; the wine tasting increased in pace. The final tally amounted to 19 new species on the Year List, one of which was of course a lifer, for a meagre Trip List total of 54 species.

We tasted more wines than that! Perhaps the birding had not been serious enough, the hole in the credit card however, certainly was but then, as Fay would say, we contributed towards promoting the Australian wine industry.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hallelujah! A Revelation

A link between us. The Black Swan in Leek.

I have never made any secret of the fact that my nascent career as a blogger started here, in Staffordshire Stray. It was created as a precursor to our pending U.K. trip in September 2010, part of the pre-trip planning intended to establish contact with birders in the West Midlands, particularly in Staffordshire.

That was all well and good but clearly the moment arrived, all too soon, when the trip had gone beyond the planning stage, indeed, had come to an end and Fay and I had returned to Australia. Apart from a trip summary I assumed that Staffordshire Stray would simply be eased out of the scene: the trip was over, there was no real further need for this blog.

During the U.K. trip I had decided that on our return to Australia I would certainly create a Birds of Allen Road blog and that lead to the idea of a second blog, to cover the wider immediate South Burnett region [a la Martyn Yapp’s West Midlands coverage in his Blurred Birding blog].

Both Fay and I were quite content to move on, to leave Staffordshire Stray comfortably behind in the warm afterglow of our trip memories.

That was until the rains come pouring down from out of the skies over Christmas 2010 and the early part of January 2011. As already intimated in a previous post, I spent one particular weekend up to the armpits trying to dig out not one but two bogged vehicles. It was during a respite from tackling the more difficult rescue, Fay’s 4-wheel Toyota [bogged to the axles], that I, out of simple curiosity, brought up Staffordshire Stray on the laptop.

My resulting amazement is documented in the previous post. Not only was I totally gobsmacked, blown away by the number of visitors to the humble blog but I also suddenly felt guilty. It seemed that I had simply abandoned all those lovely people who had taken the trouble to either become “followers’ or at least “visitors.”

It has niggled since that mud-filled day.

It is said that the best way to solve a problem is to cast your mind elsewhere, to think of other matters. Often that ploy will bring the required results.

I was driving home from school last Wednesday, casually listening to one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos [Concerto No.1 in F Major] when it suddenly occurred that perhaps I had interred Staffordshire Stray a little prematurely. Yes, I now have Birds of Allen Road to cover my “backyard” birds and Birding the South Burnett to take in the wider regional birds but what of all those occasions when Fay and I venture even further afield? Indeed, where will I blog on the planned 2012 overseas trip?

In my heart I remain a Staffordian who has simply strayed beyond the county borders. I am a Staffordshire Stray who aims to continue his bird-related wanderings.

Staffordshire Stray is therefore resurrected and will serve as the vehicle for those bird trips beyond Allen Road, beyond the wider South Burnett region.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

I remain totally gobsmacked!

Given that even more rain is falling [you may have heard about our spot of wet even as far away as Staffordshire/West Midlands] I decided to take a moment’s respite from digging out Fay’s 4-wheel-drive [yes, we managed to bog it – in our own backyard!]. I trawled through to the old Staffordshire Stray blogspot and there it was…160 UK visitors!

Where were you all when Fay and I were in need of a helping hand or two back in September 2010? I am nevertheless suitably impressed. And that’s not to detract from all the “overseas” visitors to my Staffordshire blogspot. Can I persuade some, or better still, all of you lovely people to follow me through to:


Happy 2011 to all my UK birding contacts. Even to those birders I've never met!

Saturday, October 23, 2010


a typical bridge along the Trent & Mersey Canal

The eventual trip tally managed to crawl over the one century mark at 101 [65 for Staffordshire]. That total includes two lifers, the “megatick” Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus [thanks largely to Les Ditchburn of Tewkesbury] and the Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata on Rudyard Lake [which we found ourselves].

The more astute followers of this blog over September [2010] will no doubt almost immediately have noted the discrepancy in accounts. In an earlier blog, “TWO DAYS- TWO LIFERS,” I claimed the Belvide Black Tern Chlidonias niger [courtesy of Steve Seal of “Staffordshire Birding” fame] and the aforementioned Red-necked Phalarope as two consecutive lifers ticked over two consecutive days. There was no attempt on my part to deceive [or “string”]. At the time I believed it to be an accurate call.

Such are the joys of modern technology! Prior to our departure for the UK I had copied both my then current Life and Year Lists onto a usb stick using Microsoft Excel 2007. My sisters in Rugeley still operate on Excel 2003 and to my horror I discovered that while the Year List opened without any difficulties, the Life List remained unreadable. That rather upset the well-planned apple-cart of checking lifers on the run.

Here, back home, both my now deceased computer [Windows XP running Microsoft 2007] and my new computer [Windows 7 running Microsoft 2010] opened the Life List to display that Black Tern had been recorded in the London area [Staines Reservoir] in May 1997. The Belvide bird was our second only view of the species; our third brief glimpse was at Slimbridge the following day.

On the other hand, the Mandarin Duck almost slipped by unnoticed until I was transcribing field notes into the computer, again back here in Nanango. Both of us spotted the bird gliding into the water from the bank and simultaneously called it Mandarin Duck, an unmistakeable male.

The malfunctioning usb [or simply the inability of my sister’s 2003 system] didn’t help although I suspect that the root of the problem was that we’d both seen the bird before, at Slimbridge – as a captive exotic so consequently had excluded it from any of our previous lists. Out of sight [on any list], out of mind. The exact details had clearly become a little confused. The bird was known to us, ipso facto it was already on that inaccessible Life List. It wasn’t.

Four major bird groups are represented, accounting for some 85% of all species recorded during September. While the passerines show as the largest single group, 41%, the combined top three non-passerine total 44%. The remaining 15% are all other non-passerines coming in at lower species counts and include members of nine other avian orders: podicipediformes [2 species]; pelecaniformes [1 species]; ciconiiformes [2 specie]s; galliformes [2 species]; gruiformes 2 species]; columbiformes [3 species]; strigiformes [1 species]; coraciiformes [1 species] and piciformes [2 species].

In essence the basic passerine/non-passerine split came out at 60/40.

On leaving Australia the 2010 Year List stood at 167 species. Given that the Trip List [UK birds] stands at 101 it would seem only logical that at the end of September the new year tally stood at 268 [the Common Myna at Abu D’habi making no difference to the count]. It didn’t quite pan out mathematically as of course we share a number of species and six were already listed for 2010 – including the humble House Sparrow Passer domesticus first recorded on the streets of Nanango itself. For the more arithmetically challenged, that made a Year List [at the end of September] of 262 species.

It currently stands at 270.

Scenes from Seven Springs on Cannock Chase

The Woodpigeon had us puzzled. Back in 1999 it was a woodland species rarely seen beyond the barnyard. It appears to have usurped the old Rock Pigeon [Dove] as the most common urban bird. They were even on chimney-pots along Attlee Crescent.

Back in the late 1990s we travelled especially to central Wales to see the Red Kite [with a later brief glimpse of one along the M40 out of London]. They appear to be winning, certainly we came across them in several Welsh spots.

But perhaps the most obvious difference in eleven years was not the birds or the birders – the UK has long been renowned for its excellence here- but the greenery. The trees seemed taller and greener. The countryside seemed more expansive and greener. In particular the canalside shrubbery seemed wilder, more unkempt and certainly better habitat for a wider range of wildlife.

2010 was supposed to be our last trip to the UK but now… well… who knows? Another trip could well be in the offing. There is still so much more to explore in your green and pleasant land, so many more birds to add to our British List.

In the meanwhile we’ll content ourselves with birding the South Burnett. This morning we paid our third only trip to the Gordonbrook Dam and came up with a couple of crackers but those are not for this blog. Readers are more than welcome to follow my Queensland adventures at:

or, even closer to home, my backyard birding exploits at:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Delay Upon Delay

Doxey Marshes
It never rains but it pours. I had intended writing this summary of our UK trip a day or two after our return but… the best laid plans of mice and men… Back in the 1990s, when we travelled overseas fairly extensively, jetlag rarely reared its ugly head. It was one of those urban myths that effected only old ladies and those of a more fragile disposition. Welcome back Kotter!

When it came, it came with a vengeance. We had late Saturday afternoon and all Sunday in which to recover before we both reported back at the coalface on Monday morning, 4 October. Given previous experience it was going to be a piece of cake. Heaps of time to unpack, settle down to the old home routine and be ready for work.

I first noticed that all was not as was well as it could have been when about half way through our mid-morning English lesson. I began to repeatedly drop my chalk [or rather, whiteboard maker]. When I set the lesson’s short piece of writing I sat at my desk to catch up on some of the work the relief teacher had given the class in my absence during the last two weeks of Term 3 [when Fay and I were in the UK]. One of the students eventually tapped me gently on the shoulder and asked if I was okay as I’d been snoring for the past few minutes.

Kids can be surprisingly good that way. They could have grasped the opportunity to run riot but had instead sat quietly in their places, working, while Mr B had a snooze. They understood jetlag.

It took more or less the rest of the week to readjust to Australian Eastern Standard Time – and of course in that week the rest of the eastern seaboard put their clocks back an hour while Queensland [ever fearful that milking cows may cause their curtains to fade] remained on standard time. We found ourselves wide awake at 0200 hours and knackered by 1800 hours. Driving back and forth was a nightmare. Thank God for I-pods and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”

By the end of our first week back home I felt fit enough to grapple with the “Trip Reflections” blog. Had the first couple of paragraphs sketched out and decided to test them for visuals on Microsoft Word. Looked promising. I tapped out a few more words, extended some of the sentences, switched a few paragraphs around, dotted a couple of “i’s”, crossed a “t” here and there and then sat back. Time for a drop of the Barossa’s finest red.

Shortly thereafter the computer crashed. Cables and leads were hastily unplugged and the moribund machine taken to the local technician. His wife, a whiz with computers, smiled, suggested it was probably dust on the terminals [or some such disease these technological contraptions suffer from]. She did unspeakable things to the machine, blew here and there, tweaked this, poked that, squeezed a little and sure enough the machine came back to life. Another resurrection to set the Evangelists abuzzing.

The less than heartening prognosis was, however, that my computer was so outdated that should I ever be in need of replacement parts it would be neigh on impossible to find any anywhere this side of Cyber Heaven [where all good electrical appliances go when the last amp leaves their battery].

And yes, you’ve guessed it, that weekend [the weekend before last] the computer crashed again, only it was obviously a mite more serious this time. Last rites were administered; a Requiem Mass celebrated and where possible data rescued. The old desktop was no more.

Long live the desktop!

It took a few days to put together the new computer: Windows 7; Office 2010; cordless keyboard and mouse; new external speakers and that curious pale pink button, bottom left, which, once fully understood, will pour me a glass of wine on demand!

In the meanwhile I kept myself from fretting by backing-up trip pix onto CDs [via the Government-issued laptop].

And all this in a background of rampant fleas. That was a side issue that made sitting still in any one spot not only uncomfortable but also very irritating. Whenever Fay and/or I sat in the “office” for any length of time, the lower half of our legs became covered in fleas! I am assured that it has something to do with the excessively wet conditions while we were away –the rain gauge registered in excess of 100mm of rain. One of life’s little ironies really. During those last few days in the UK, when there had been some drizzle, kith and kin, and the occasional oddball, would come up and say something to the effect that they were sure we would be glad to be back in sunny Queensland.

The thing with excessively wet weather is that it drives the humble house mouse Mus musculus indoors seeking shelter. The thing about mice indoors is that they tend to nibble here and there and occasionally that “here’ is a computer cable, the “there” a wad of important bird notes and so to prevent these calamities, as much as we both dislike the practice, we leave poison baits lying around in strategic spots [under the settee, on the lowest bookshelf, etc.]. The thing about dead mice is that the fleas they hosted leave to seek fresher pastures. The thing about homeless fleas is that they remain hidden in minute dust mounds awaiting some unsuspecting warm-blooded creature to attach themselves onto.

Having a huge English Mastiff die of old age did little to deter the influx of fleas under the house – and of course some inevitably found their way upstairs into the main living quarters.

And so here we are, where we should have been almost a fortnight ago.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Little Egret
I had intended writing this piece late Saturday afternoon [3 October 2010], shortly after our return to Nanango but as Steinbeck quoted, borrowing the words from that most famous of Scottish poets, Robbie Burns, the best laid plans of mice and men often gang… JETLAG! I don’ recall it effecting either of us to this extent back in the 1990s when Fay and I travelled extensively around the globe in pursuit of birds – indeed, we frequented the skyways so often that on more than one occasion we earned sufficient “frequent flyer” points to facilitate a number of internal, intra-Australia, flights. These freebies brought us a number of Australian Lifers; together with much appreciate tours of the Clare [South Australia] and Hunter [New South Wales] Valleys, renowned more for their wines than for their birds but to the discerning eye, and palate, famous for both.

Not that there was much to report, a flight back home is, well, to all intents and purposes, a flight back home and the norm is that nothing much worth reporting occurs on such journeys. In avian terms this is probably the case in this instance. We did pick up our only, to date, Middle Eastern tick, a humble, if rather invasive, Common Myna. There had been a small number of other birds flitting around, visible from the transit lounge of ABU DHABI airport but it was late, the light was dimming and the birds never approached close enough for anything but the most cursory diagnostic peek.... a pipit type, something akin to a swallow… The Myna hung around on the edge of a nearby aero-bridge to afford us the opportunity to view all its tale-telling features. Indeed, there were three of them at varying distances and angles of view.

Black-headed Gull

What did have me almost totally gob-smacked, surprised beyond speech, was that for the first time since the knee replacement operation [22 July 2008] my bionic part didn’t trigger the metal detector as I walked through the arch at the airport security area. You probably need to have an artificial, metallic, bit to fully appreciate the difference between a lion leaping through a loop and the same creature leaping through a lighted loop. Having become accustomed to the lights flashing and the alarm resounding I had in fact stopped and pointed down to my knee to indicate the source of the problem. I think I had even started the now almost inevitable stoop to untie my bootlaces- just as I had done on the outward journey. An armed guard bearing nothing more disarming than the most friendly of smiles beckoned me on with a kind “It’s okay, sir.”
In true Shakespearean style I offer the following brief aside: never judge an entire nation by what you might see/hear via various forms of the Media. Not all Arabs are bomb-toting terrorists, just as not all Christians attending weekly church rites are Christian. Until back in 1997 I think I had a rather jaundiced view of North Americans; loud and brash with little sense of humour or at least a sense of humour too cryptic for the likes of me to fathom. It was of course a cynical opinion based on too many hours of American television programs in which the cops only ever chased villains in high speed cars and, again almost inevitably, shot them dead at the end of the chase. The Arizona café owners and the Pittsburgh widow shattered those illusions.
To cap off the Abu Dhabi experience, on returning through security at Singapore’s Changi International Airport, where on the outward journey the metal detector had clanged its dire warning to all and sundry that a potential terrorist was passing through, nothing happened, not so much as a lowly grind or metallic gnashing of electrodes. And again, I hesitated, already pointing my right index finger towards my right knee. I was waved on.

Since the knee replacement in July 2008 I have passed through ten airport metal detectors and in 80% of those instances the alarm was raised and I was more carefully scanned by the hand-held detector and pat searched. What was different on these two last occasions? Is it a sign of better things ahead?

We arrived home mid-afternoon, Saturday 2 October, pleased to find the house still standing, the two dogs and three cats still alive and looking well and the Sacred Kingfisher back on its old limb surveying the area which Fay and I, in our more foolish moments, believe belongs to us.


Sometime in the near future I will analyse the trip in avian terms and put down some reflections. I will of course blog the essentials here but the full version will appear on my soon-to-be-revamped website: http:/

Meanwhile, for those interested in following the birding exploits of a “Staffordshire Stray” on his local patch, the South Burnett region of Queensland [approximately three hours by car NW of Brisbane] , I invite you to glance across at Indeed, given a little more spare time I hope to create a blogspot with an even narrower focus – provisionally to be called Backyard Birding: Allen Road.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The End Draws Nigh

Rudyard Lake from railside

In birding terms, Friday 24 September was a wasted day. Fay was expecting a telephone call from one of the curators at the Shrewsbury Museum which kept us house-bound until the call came through. By early afternoon, with still no sign of that call, Fay telephoned the Museum only to reach a brick wall. We hung around as the information Fay was hoping to receive was of some importance to her. Sher continues to wait for that information.

Saturday 25 September was only a little better. We had a second appointment to meet up with Fay’s brother and his wife. We need squeeze in an early morning stroll along the towpath of the Trent & Mersey Canal, from Bridge 64 to Love Lane and then took the opportunity to revisit Leathermill Lane.

Sunday 26 September was earmarked for lunch with one of Fay’s more distant cousins in Biddulph, another genealogy aficionado; they shared the grandparents of Fay’s grandparents, whatever that makes them in relative terms!

However, Fay’s paternal grandparents ran the Wesrport Inn on Canal Street and while this beerhouse no longer exists [unless it’s the derelict Pack Horse Inn on the corner or alternatively the Sea Cades building at the other end of that section of canal – it does have the hint of former stable yards to it] Fay was keen to see the area and perhaps even come away with a photograph or two. Using a combination of an old Stoke-on-Trent road atlas and Where to Watch Birds in the West Midlands we headed for the [now non-existent] parking area on nearby Canal Lane. From here we simply followed the canal towpath, alongside Westport Lake- even if the Visitor’s Centre was completely fenced off!

The Westport Lake area did, on the other hand, provide two new Trip and Staffordshire List birds.

Yesterday, Monday 27 September saw us race off to Leek to visit an old favourite haunt, the Picture Book Bookshop and Churnet Valley Publishing in Stanley Street. Back in the 1990s, when Fay and I made frequent overseas birding trips [always calling in on the Old Dart to visit kith and kin] we made a point of calling in here – and, more often than not, either walking out with or having a collection of birding books sent out to us in Australia.

It shuts on Mondays!

We took the opportunity to visit Rudyard Lake and almost immediately came across a Mandarin Duck and Canada Goose.

Canada Goose on canalside.
It is a little after 0440 hours as I tap out these few words [sleep and diabetes often refuse to collaborate with each other]; the day is earmarked for taking my two sisters to Strafford-upon-Avon. How can I refuse them? They have made their home our home, fed us and generally looked after us during our month-long stay. Who am I to refuse them a small culture shot in a town that will almost undoubtedly be filled with tourists and Feral Pigeons?

Tomorrow [Wednesday 29 September] will be largely spent in packing and with final farewells. We leave for Brisbane on Thursday.

Trip List: 102 Staffordshire List: 62