Monday, 10 July 2017

Little Stint at Stockyard Point

About two weeks ago, I went to Stockyard Point to find "Syd" the SIPO (South Island Pied Oystercatcher), a mega rare bird from New Zealand that had somehow ended up in Australia. I returned home with some photos and a great sense of satisfaction. But the very next day, another rare bird was reported from the exact same location. This time it was a Little Stint. Not as rare and mega as the SIPO, but still quite a good bird and one that I have dipped on previously. I was extremely gripped, and checked through all of my previous day's photos to see if I had inadvertently photographed the Little Stint, but of course, I hadn't!

15 days after the initial report, I finally managed to make my way to Stockyard Point and look for the Little Stint. I was unable to go earlier due to work commitments, and after work finished I went on an awesome and much anticipated family holiday. Luckily, the bird had been sighted pretty much every day since the initial report.

I arrived at the Jam Jerrup car park around 11:15 and started the long walk to Stockyard Point. I was hoping that there might be a few other birders around, because I wasn't overly keen on trying to pick out a Little Stint on my own. I have red-green colourblindness, and have particular difficulty with reds. And this bird is best found by looking for exactly those colours that my eyes have trouble seeing. But the car park was empty, and I had the place all to myself.

The walk to the point is not that far, really, but it can be a tad tricky. Eventually I reached the point and sat for a rest and a drink of water, and began waiting for the waders to come in and roost at high tide. After about an hour or so, in they came in their 100s. Then I realised just how tricky this was going to be. I had to try and pick a single bird from a much larger group of extremely similar looking small birds, where the only noticeable difference is colour, and I'm colourblind. And I'd have to get close enough to do this without flushing them. Dang!

The birds landed in two groups. One at the point, and one further around closer to a bay with mangroves. I went for the group closer to the mangroves, and after a few quick scans from distance, found nothing. I started to creep in closer, and have another look. And then, pretty much right in front of me, I found it. And I found it because it was a different colour. Yes, colourblind me found a bird using colour. I took a ton of photos, but the birds suddenly flushed. I hadn't even moved, but I guess that's waders for you. They all moved to the point where I was able to find the Little Stint again, but it was mixed in with a bunch of Red-necked Stints and not showing very well. Of course there was plenty of other waders to photograph as well!

I didn't stay long after finding the Little Stint, and had to wade through some shallow water to get back to the car park. I also managed to scratch my arm, and it bled quite a bit. I arrived back at the car, cold, wet, bleeding, and ecstatic. All worth it to see such a beautiful bird. The last one that was reported in Victoria was only seen over two days, and certainly not by me - I was there on the third day with about 20 other disappointed birders. This bird seems to be sticking around though, and has been seen regularly for a few weeks now. Lifer #394, Victorian bird #314, and bird species photograph #350. Woo-hoo!!

Little Stint

Little Stint

Double-banded Plover

Double-banded Plover

Red Knot (large bird)

Red Knot

Red Knot

Red-capped Plover

Australian Pied Oystercatcher

Saturday, 24 June 2017

An Amazing Day Birding at Stockyard Point

An incredibly rare vagrant bird has turned up at Stockyard Point near Jam Jerrup in Victoria, and it has an interesting backstory. Colloquially known as "Syd the SIPO" (South Island Pied Oystercatcher), this bird caused a lot of commotion when it was seen at Broadwater Beach in New South Wales in January 2017. It was identified as a New Zealand native South Island Pied Oystercatcher due to its short legs and long, thin bill. However, it had a leg flag that indicated that it was banded at Stockyard Point in 2016, where it was mis-identified as an Australian Pied Oystercatcher. This meant that although it had been in Victoria in 2016, nobody knew that there had been a SIPO in Victoria because it wasn't identified as one when it was banded. Many of us Victorians hoped that it might return to Westernport Bay, and on Sunday 18th June, local birding guide and expert birder Simon Star located Syd back at Stockyard Point. This bird is the first ever SIPO recorded in Victoria.

Throughout the week, many, many birders twitched Syd. And throughout the week I resisted the temptation to take a day off work and go and find it for myself! I had a strong feeling that it would stick around for a while, and luckily I was right! On Saturday 26 June I left home feeling very excited, but of course also a bit nervous because when it comes to finding birds, there are no guarantees!

I parked at the car park in Jam Jerrup and began the long walk to the point, where I found the expected horde of birders already looking at the SIPO. It took all of three seconds to find it, get dodgy photos, and then do a little lifer dance. Much later in the day, I got better photos, as Syd had moved in much closer and the sun even came out!

South Island Pied Oystercatcher (left) with Australian Pied Oystercatcher

South Island Pied Oystercatcher (right) showing leg band 1N

But the excitement didn't stop with Syd the SIPO. There were soooo many over-wintering migratory waders that it was hard to believe. And the diversity of species, including a few rarities, was staggering.

When I arrived, many waders had already come in to roost, including large numbers of Double-banded Plovers (some showing a lot of colour), Red-necked Stints, Curlew Sandpipers and quite a few Red Knot. Many people were looking for a Terek Sandpiper, but local birding superstar Tim Nickholds eventually picked it out from the masses. It did show itself a few more times throughout the day.

Double-banded Plover
Double-banded Plover
Red Knot showing some breeding colour

Red Knot

Mostly Red Knots, with a few Curlew Sandpipers and Double-banded Plovers
Terek Sandpiper (showing distinctive yellow legs)
Six Species in this photo: Double-banded Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Red-capped Plover, Terek Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Red Knot
Then, as if a Terek Sandpiper and coloured-up Red Knots wasn't enough, someone spotted a flock of Eastern Curlew flying in. I aimed the camera at them, instantly noticed a much smaller bird, and started to get very excited. It was a Whimbrel, a bird that I have seen before, but never in my home state of Victoria. A Whimbrel is a difficult bird to see in Victoria, but it was even more incredible to see one in the middle of winter! I only managed a few distant photos before it was gone, but I was very happy to get them!

Heavily cropped, crappy photo of a Whimbrel
Whimbrel (centre) amongst some Eastern Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit
At the same time, a large flock of Bar-tailed Godwits was flying around. Both the Eastern Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit flocks landed, but the Whimbrel was not seen again.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Eastern Curlew

Eastern Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, and a lone Australian Pied Oystercatcher
Eventually the tide went out enough, and I decided to make my way back to the car. I had seen a mega rare vagrant South Island Pied Oystercatcher, and an incredible array of over-wintering migratory waders. It was one of the most amazing birding experiences I have ever had.

eBird checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37766723

Friday, 31 March 2017

Sawflies at Woodlands Historic Park

In recent visits to Woodlands Historic Park I've found a few different types of sawfly larvae, as well as two adults, one of which looked to be laying eggs...

ID unknown, maybe Perga sp.

ID unknown, maybe Perga sp.

I think these are Lophyrotoma interrupta

I think these are Lophyrotoma interrupta

I think these are Lophyrotoma interrupta

I think these are Lophyrotoma interrupta

Unidentified sawfly species
Unidentified sawfly species



Unidentified sawfly species

Unidentified sawfly species
Unidentified sawfly species
Perga affinis

Perga affinis


Mistletoe Moth (Comocrus behri) caterpillars

About a month ago (24/2/2017), I found some freshly hatched caterpillars on a low hanging mistletoe at Woodlands Historic Park. I had seen and photographed an adult Mistletoe Moth (Comocrus behri) nearby a few weeks before that, and considering the host plant, I wondered if these were Mistletoe Moth caterpillars.

February 24 2017
I could not find any photos of the early instars of the Mistletoe Moth caterpillar, so I decided that I would head back each week to see these caterpillars develop.

March 4 2017

March 11 2017

March 17 2017

March 17 2017
Then, on March 23 2017, I came upon a dilemma. I found three obvious Mistletoe Moth caterpillars, but there were still about ten of the green-ish caterpillars I had been observing. It seemed as if the caterpillars I had been observing were something else.

March 23 2017
Mistletoe Moth caterpillar (Comocrus behri) March 23 2017
Mistletoe Moth caterpillar (Comocrus behri) March 23 2017
Mistletoe Moth caterpillar (Comocrus behri) March 23 2017.
Mistletoe Moth caterpillar (Comocrus behri) March 23 2017
So I went back one week later for another look. This time I found six Mistletoe Moth caterpillars, and only one of the original type caterpillars.

March 30 2017
Mistletoe Moth caterpillar (Comocrus behri) March 30 2017

My suspicion that the caterpillars I have been following were Mistletoe Moth caterpillars (Comocrus behri) turned out to be wrong. The caterpillars I had been following were in fact caterpillars of the Red-spotted Jezebel butterfly (Delias aganippe). It was great to get back for a few weeks and observe their progress.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Oechalia schellenbergii

I recently found some information about Predatory Shield Bugs (Oechalia schellenbergii) and to my surprise discovered that some photos that I have taken and could not identify were in fact different development stages of this insect. It also turns out that I had photographed the eggs of this species as well. I was very happy to solve a bunch of identification problems, but I never expected them to be the same species!

Overall I think I have photographed six stages - eggs, 2nd instar, 3rd instar, 4th instar, 5th instar and adult.

Predatory Shield Bug eggs (Oechalia schellenbergii)

Predatory Shield Bug 2nd instar (Oechalia schellenbergii)

Predatory Shield Bug 3rd instar (Oechalia schellenbergii)

Predatory Shield Bug 4th instar (Oechalia schellenbergii)

Predatory Shield Bug 5th instar (Oechalia schellenbergii)

Predatory Shield Bug 5th instar (Oechalia schellenbergii)

Predatory Shield Bug 5th instar (Oechalia schellenbergii)

Predatory Shield Bug adult (Oechalia schellenbergii)

Predatory Shield Bug adult (Oechalia schellenbergi
Predatory Shield Bug adult (Oechalia schellenbergi