Saturday, May 21, 2011


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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 cafĂ© 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!