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.