Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Eve of Departure

We're there! All those months of planning and reckoning off the days until departure date are at an end. We fly out of Brisbane in the morning [Thursday 2 September 2010]. There may be some on-the-run, last minutes readjustments to be made once we're in Staffordshire but to all intents and purposed, this is it.

I came to blogging via the West Midlands blogspot to help get a "feel" for my old stomping grounds and that has been worthwhile. I was made welcome and reading through the various posts certainly added further incentive to be there, becoming reaquainted with former "ticked" species and maybe even adding a few new ones to the list. Birding in the U.K. appears to have undergone several changes since I was last there.

And yet it has been perhaps a little incongruous, someone from the South Burnett region of Queensland posting occasional blogs referring to Australian birds. No one appears to have objected, certainly no one told me I shouldn't be there. It may be that I have simply misinterpreted the protocols. Is the spot for West Midlands birders only? Is it in fact open to all and sundry?

What I have most admired during my brief sojourn here is the dissemination of local birding news and knowledge. Clearly local birders are wll catered for here, although I don't doubt that other regions are similarly catered for.

It set me to thinking, what's an old Queenslander doing in a West Midlands blogspot? Yes, I am a former resident but I left Staffordshire in 1974 and have returned only on rare occasions, the last 11 years ago.

It's time to move on, to follow Richard Powell's adage, "Local Birding for Local People." I have my own local patch here in the South Burnett and there are a number of local people with varying degrees of birding interest - from the obsessed [you should talk to Fay about it] to the casual backyard observer who throws out a few crumbs or commercial seeds.

I have made a tentative start [to be continued on my return from the U.K. in October]. Those interested in knowing a little about the local birds from a small area on the other side of the [West Midlands] world are welcome to follow my at:


Not that this is the end. If matters pan out as I trust they will I'll post daily updates on our progress throughout September and even after our return to Nanango I'll keep an eye on the antics of "Blurred Birding" etc.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Time Draws Closer… and Ravens

We were sitting on the eastern veranda this [Saturday] morning, indulging in a second cup of hot coffee. The ambient temperature was around 5.3oC [it had hit a low of 3.5oC overnight]. When here [and not off somewhere else] we keep an almost religious weekend list of our backyard birds. The usual crowd had been “ticked”: Laughing Kookaburra, Australian Magpie, Pied Currawong, Grey Butcherbird, etc. We noted the caw of several crows off to the south and looked up to the sky. Sure enough four Torresian Crows floated into view. I recorded them and looked away to note the White-winged Chough and Crested Pigeon in the orchard.

It was Fay who drew my attention back to the crows. Surely the one slightly apart from the others, and clearly much higher in the sky, was almost raptor-like. It soared with outstretched fingers, presenting a flat dihedral. Crows tend to soar with wings bent slightly downwards.

Out came the binoculars and, yes, it wasn’t after all a crow but rather an Australian Raven. I deleted the “4”, substituted a “3” but added the 152nd species to the “Backyard List.” We’d have celebrated with a glass of Barossa's finest shiraz but this is Saturday 28 August, the last Saturday before we leave for the U.K. and several last-minute chores remain to be completed prior to our departure.

The photo was taken by Steve Happ [http://stevehapp.com/blog/?tag=mornington-peninsula].

Monday, August 23, 2010

Last Minute Hitches

Life's like that! All appears to be going swimmingly well, then Fate throws a spanner at your spokes in an attempt to derail all those well laid plans. This time the spanner came close...

With thoughts firmly set on Thursday 2 September, a mild smirk could be detected on my face as I considered all those teaching collaegues who would not soon be winging it across to enjoy Cannock Chase, Blithfield Reservoir, Doxey Marshes, etc. Then the postman delivered that letter from the Transport Dept, a brief note to remind me that my driver's licence expires on my next birthday - a week into our U.K. trip!

Ordinarily no problem. These days one can even renew online, except if one happens to be diabetic -in which case the law requires that a GP tests your eyesight on an annual basis and confirms that you are sufficiently sighted not to pose a serious problem on the Queen's highways and byways.

Again, ordinarily no problem, well not in a metropolitan setting where GPs are a penny a dozen and if your regular doctor is over-booked you simply go along to another. But Nanango is country and here doctors are almost as rare as chicken's teeth - over-subscibed and working flat strap to keep up with the demand. To give you an example, on an earlier trip, simply to seek repeat diabetes prescriptions, my 1630 appointment stretched to 1750.

Last Thursday I thought I'd be smart and requested an early appointment. Yes, the doctor could squeeze me in at 0815. I duly informed the Principal [headmaster] that I could be a little late, that my immediate colleague [a simple partition divides our respective classrooms] could keep an eye on my class until I turned up. At 0850 I simply lost patience and informed the receptionist that I had run out of time, was expected back at school and would telephone from there during my lunch break.

We rescheduled for 1500; school ends at 1500 and its a 30-minute drive from Blackbutt [where I teach] to Nanango! No problems. I would leave at 1430, again my colleague would keep an eye on the class while I whizzed off to have an eye test. I arrived at 1455 and was eventually called through to the doctor's surgery at 1615.

Still, the important part had been achieved, I had successfully completed an eye test and had the necessary medical confirmation that I was sufficiently sighted to be allowed loose behind a steering wheel. For those interested, I have 20/20 vision in my left eye while my right eye leaves a little to be desired but nevertheless continues to operate at above 60%.

After school on Friday afternoon I raced through from Blackbutt to Nanango and on to the regional captial at Kingaroy, around an hour's travelling. I walked through the Transport Dept. doors at 1555. They close their doors at 1600!

That particular last minute crisis is over, I have my renewed licence in my wallet

Not all was conducted at such a hectic pace over those few days. There were quiet, more sedate moments. I heard the first Olive-backed Oriole of the season calling from somewhere on the school grounds. A pair of Noisy Friarbirds, again the first of the season, cavorted in the gum tree at the school entrance. A Wonga Pigeon boomed from somewhere in the distance and the usual assortment of Torresian Crows, Australian Magpies, Pied Currawongs and the ubiquitous Noisy Miners scurried around discarded lunch wrappings in search of leftover tasty morsels.

Life's never as bad as it seems as long as there's a bird or two in your sights.

Don't forget to look out for the obvious Aussies doing the usual birding haunts in and around Staffordshire during September. Say "Gidday, mate" and in true Aussie tradition I'll buy you a pint at the nearest watering hole.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

...nearer still

Hard to believe. This blog started all that time ago to help me get a "feel" for the old West Midlands. Now, it's just around the corner. Two weeks tomorrow [Thursday 19 August] Fay and I will board the aeroplane at Brisbane - next stop [well, almost next] Manchester. A quick drive down the M6 and Bob's you uncle!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Three weeks tomorrow and we’ll be aboard the aircraft destined for Manchester. My first overseas trip since 1999; Fay managed a quick, non-birding, trip in 2005, on the occasion of her mother’s 90th birthday. I would be a poor liar if I didn’t admit to a little excitement at the prospect of revisiting old stomping grounds in Staffordshire and the West Midlands – along with our first venture to the Blackwater Estuary and a brief return to Devon.

This will certainly be the best we’ve been prepared for a British birding trip. Fieldguides to hand. The BirdGuides DVD-ROM guide to British birds studied; British and regional lists compiled, etc.

Not wishing to over-stretch our ambitions, we’ve limited our target species to a humble four:

Long-eared Owl,
Cetti Warbler and
Cirl Bunting

Sunday, August 1, 2010


It seems superfluous to yet again apologise for the long absence from these pages. Such is life! Much water has passed beneath the bridge since my last blog.
I originally came to this Blog in search of birding ideas for our forthcoming sojourn to the UK, to our former West Midlands stomping grounds in particular. At the time it remained a distant objective, something to keep simmering on the back burner while we got on with more mundane and immediate matters – like attending the recent “Wine on the Wharf” event at which some 400 different wines were available for tasting- varietal differences and from competing Australian [with a smattering of overseas] vineyards.

Suddenly it is no longer a distant engagement, something to merely pencil in on the wall calendar. All those preparatory months have gone. We are in August, our plane leaves Brisbane airport on 2 September!

And it has been both a learning and sobering experience. While the West Midlands remains our main focus, Fay, a keen amateur genealogist, has kith and kin on the central Welsh coastline and a favourite cousin who recently retired to Devon. The Blackwater Estuary, Essex, is one of those things I have to do before I drop off the perch.

It all went towards extending our birding outlook, while bearing in mind that on my last visit to the UK [1999] I received a fair bollocking from my sisters for spending more time out in the field birding than I did with them!

It has also been interesting gauging the degree of assistance provided by various birders in those four areas to a forthcoming birding visitor. Devon we've decided to tackle alone. The Welsh have been noticeable by their absence; the best I received was a number of suggestions that I visit the websites. The West Midlands Bird Club [of which I am a member] has been outstanding in its efforts to provide me with several necessities. However, I have to acknowledge the best help has come from the local birders of Maldon [Blackwater Estuary] who have provided birdlist specifically for September and even scoured their locality to find suitable hotel/b&b accommodation for Fay and I.

Perhaps Fay and I will see one or two of you around the ridges while we’re out and about in spots such as Blithfield, Doxey Marshes, etc. You can’t miss us; we’re the ones with Zeiss binoculars and a KOWA telescope If you come within hearing range you may even pick up a slight twang of Strine.

Oh yes, I was also promoted at school in the interim.