Birding on King Island
The Hobcroft Family Diary
4-10 January 2016
The Hobcrofts (Dion, Lise, Grace and Daniel)
Report by Dion Hobcroft
The ultra-rare King Island Brown Thornbill has never been photographed before to my knowledge.
This is only the fourth sighting since 1972. The bird does not have a red eye, combined with the long chisel-like bill it is a very distinctive taxa, quite possibly a species in its own right.
Mon 4/1/16: A 5:15 am taxi is never a good thing but the flight to Melbourne left on time and we squeezed a visit into the QANTAS club, always a highlight for Dan! We checked into REX Airlines in Melbourne and before lunchtime we had landed at Currie, King Island. Gale force easterly winds but quite bright overall. We picked up a Hilux and after stocking up on supplies drove through to Grassy, to our beach shack, called “Bold Views.” On the way we ticked off the Wild Turkey, here at one of its very few tickable populations in Australia. 795, woot-woot!! We were all a bit shell-shocked from our early start and late night. Eventually I got motivated and headed to Naracoopa where some good birds were spotted. This included a White-throated Needletail, a male Satin Flycatcher, Olive Whistler, the endemic Dusky Robin subspecies (quite chocolate) and two Fan-tailed Cuckoos. The island looked very dry overall, a real drought. Dinner at the Grassy Club was tasty with excellent local produce. Bed could not come soon enough.
Another photograph of the King Island Brown Thornbill showing the long crow-bar bill, pale brown eye and strongly marked throat.
Tue 5/1/16: A morning in the Pegarah State Forest was lively. A pool of water for fire-fighting attracted a lot of birds, despite drizzle and then steady rain setting in. Good birds for King Island included Green Rosella, Striated Pardalote, Flame Robin, another Satin Flycatcher (a female this time) and all the Tasmanian endemic honeyeaters. Later in the day we explored north to Cape Wickham. Lake Flannigan held masses of birds including Blue-billed and Musk Duck, Chestnut-breasted Shelduck and quite a few Cape Barren Geese. At the Cape itself we enjoyed a picnic hamper, checked out the tallest lighthouse in Australia and spotted a few Nankeen Kestrels. On the way we found a few flocks of Little Raven and a solitary Galah. A drive along Tin Mine Road failed to produce California Quail but a couple of Brush Bronzewings showed well. Back at Grassy the kids could get back on the devices. I tried a spot down near Grassy Harbour and had success finding a basking Lowland Copperhead, an absolute beauty. I was kicking myself for not taking the camera. The harbour was a good spot and held a pair of Hooded Plovers, Sooty Oystercatchers whilst at night it was alive with Little Penguins and Short-tailed Shearwaters. A single Pallid Cuckoo was also of note between Currie and Pegarah on the return drive from the dinner at the King Island Club. Despite the wet, mild weather it had been a very good day all up.
Wed 6/1/16: An early start to bird from Grassy to Pegarah State Forest. A 20 minute survey at Yarra Creek for Scrubtit in promising looking riparian wet forest with a few tree ferns produced a blank. Managed to see the first Golden Whistlers here and some recently fledged Crescent Honeyeaters were an interesting plumage. In Pegarah SF I continued up Blue Gum Road parking at the junction of Lappa Road. I walked west on Mucronata Road towards Zeta Creek. Initially it was quiet for birds, the usual Grey Fantails, Tasmanian Thornbills and Tasmanian Scrubwrens, all of which were responsive to playback of Brown Thornbill. Then a long-billed thornbill made an appearance high up in the Eucalyptus brookeriana and gave a breezy powerful “breee-ip.” It was joined by a second bird and dropped lower into some manuka where I could get a decent view. The bill looked very good, conspicuously long like a Large-billed Scrubwren, the flanks were rich brown and the undertail coverts were also pale brownish, not fluffy pure white. This was the ultra-rare King Island Brown Thornbill and so I started taking photographs and luckily several worked out as well as could be expected. I think this is the first time this taxa has been photographed. After a few minutes I lost them as they moved through, using their long bills to work strips of bark in the higher reaches of the Eucalyptus trees. This was the major excitement for the trip! Later I picked up a small flock of Shining Bronze-Cuckoos. Returning to Bold Views we headed back to Currie for lunch in the lovely café. Then we drove to Naracoopa spotting a single Dusky Woodswallow on the way. At Naracoopa we had a pair of Fairy Terns, a Pied Oystercatcher, Caspian Terns and a single Black-faced Cormorant. The list was rocketing along. We headed north to Sea Elephant Estuary, jagging a surprise Fallow Deer on the road briefly. Exploring the estuary added Common Greenshank (10), Bar-tailed Godwit (4), another Fairy Tern and a healthy flock of Chestnut Teal. En route to Blowhole Beach we found a single Brown Falcon and then a Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo that responded to playback. I returned to near Grassy Harbour to try and photograph the Lowland Copperhead I had seen yesterday. No luck with this individual but found a massive one, about a metre in length disappearing into some old tin nearby so hopefully that will be a stake-out tomorrow.