This wasn't a birding trip as such, at least it started as a celebration of my mother-in-law, Jude's sixtieth birthday. However, as the trip went on my joy of birds seemed to prove infectious and by the end of the week everyone spent much of the time staring into trees, 'spotlighting' and chasing rarities. I'm very grateful to Jude, Stevo, Tash and Tamara for being so selfless in humouring me.
The first good thing about Kangaroo Island (from now on and in the local vernacular, 'KI') as a birdwatching destination is that the trip is bookended by two pelagic trips. That is, if you're any good at seawatching and travel at the right time of year. Despite those two factors working against me I managed to record the following species during the first forty-minute ferry crossing between Cape Jervis and Penneshaw. Around both ferry ports in good numbers were Crested Tern, Black-faced Cormorant, Little Pied Cormorant and Pied Cormarant; and at sea, 2 Little Penguin, Australian Gannet, Pacific Gull, dark phase Pomarine Jeagar and many distant goodies far more deserving of a decent seawatcher.
Once on the island we took to the roads and pulled in at a few lookout points. First stop Pennington Bay turned up a pair of Sooty Oystercatchers, five Tree Martin and an Australian Pelican (impressive beasts!). Later KI's capital, Kingscote yielded numerous Black Swan, a first-year Pacific Gull, a few pairs of Pied Oystercatcher, three pairs of Masked Lapwing, many more Australian Pelicans and a school of young-looking Bottlenose Dolphins breaching around the shallow bay.
Australian Pelicans, Kingscote
On the way back to our accommodation we drove around American River. Extra species noted from the car and during a quick stop were Greenshank, Musk Duck and a few Chestnut Teal.
We were staying at a place called The Glasshouse on Island Beach. It was surrounded by plenty of scrubby heath and overlooked a beach. A short morning walk around the property turned up two Hooded Plover, Silvereyes, Superb Blue Wrens and a Heath Monitor or Rosenberg's Sand Goanna or 'Bung Arrow' as Stevo called it.
Our first stop of the day was the KI honey farm which employed the services of the only remaining pure strain of Ligurian Honey Bees. Fly catching around the bins outside were a small flock of Grey Fantails.
Next stop: Murray Lagoon which, during the winter, hosts a great number of the island's water birds. Unfortunately during our visit the birdlife was distant and scarce due to low water levels. I did see one of my target birds here, though, with the presence of two Cape Barren Geese. There are limited numbers of these geese (5000-8000, Slaters Guide to Australian Birds, 2003) and they're restricted to the Southern coast and islands so it was a must tick before moving to Sydney. If you're not visiting the Lagoon area in the winter then the best place to see these birds, according to the warden at Murray Lagoon, is around the visitor centre at Flinders Chase. Indeed, we saw greater numbers there.
Distant Cape Barren Goose, Murray Lagoon
We then moved on to the Australian Sea Lion Colony at Seal Bay. These sea lions are another breed of limited numbers with 10—12000 remaining and a population in decline at a rate of 3% every 18 months. They were accompanied by the far less endangered Crested Terns.
In an effort to walk off last night's exploits I took myself for a walk along Island Beach which runs up to the Pelican Lagoon reserve. Birds seen along the way were the aforementioned second Osprey; five Red-capped Plovers; c15 Red-necked Stints; good numbers of Black-faced, Little Black and Pied Cormorants; three Sooty Oystercatchers; three Pacific Gulls; Australian White Ibis; Greenshank; Australian Darter; Osprey; Superb Blue Wren; Eastern Curlew and my first, breathtaking site of a Caspian Tern which looked like a glamorous pig with wings. I had no idea they were so huge.
Later that night, after a spot of fishing off the Kingscote Jetty (I caught my first Snook), we got a good look at the Little Penguins as they came back from a day at sea. We had to spare them the ignominy of a flash in the face so no photos I'm afraid.
Friday was the day the holiday turned seriously birdy and we found ourselves on a mission to record a Glossy Black-Cockatoo. There is an isloated population of subspecies (halmaturinus) on the island of about two hundred birds. I was tipped off by Michelle, one of the guides at the Australian Seal Colony, of a couple of reliable spots for which I am extremely grateful.
The first spot we tried was around the Sugar Gums at the end of the American River road (just beyond the community hall and up the hill). The Glossy Black Cockies here are apparently used to people and easier to approach but during the hour we searched they must have been feeding around the coast or deeper in the forest. We turned up in late morning which probably didn't help. You'll have more luck in the early morning or late evening I reckon.
Despite dipping the cockies we did see another pair of Cape Barren Geese, Grey Currawongs (black winged form) and a Wedge-tailed Eagle. I've been having trouble identifying Australian raptors but this one was unmistakable and flipping massive!
On our way to the next Glossy Black-Cockatoo spot we called in at the Stokes Bay Bush Gardens. As well as an impressive collection of native flora, and the dizzying aroma that that brings, they played host to a good variety of birds. We didn't spend long here but, as well as noting a few commoner species, I did have the privelige of seeing a Beautiful Firetail which truly lived up to its name.
With John's directions and Michelle's original tip-off for Glossy Black-Cockatoos promising a sighting we took the short trip (1KM) north to the Lathami Conservation Park. (Drive to the second sign and park there rather than turn into the farm track at the first.) Once parked we headed along the only obvious track which leads you towards the gorge and the She-oaks which produce this species' favourite fruit. Two minutes in and we flushed our first two birds, then six! It was a mighty relief to see their red tails in flight but for a better view we headed deeper into the gorge and it wasn't long before tash picked out a female perched twenty meters off the track. Deeper still and we where treated to the prolonged site of five more of these precious birds—by far the rarest birds I've ever seen.
If you don't encounter GBCs near the car park follow the main path around to the left, all the way to the perimeter fence at the edge of the reserve and head down into the gorge.
We spent our last full day at Flinders Chase, the largest of the national parks on the Island. On the way we called in at the Rustic Blue Gallery. They were rearing Misty, a young Western Grey Kangaroo who lost her mother in a car accident. Scarlet Robins and a Black Kite were also in the area.
Flinders Chase covers the western tip of KI and is probably worth a week's observation-dedication to do it justice. During our brief visit I only managed to add one bird species to the list in the form of three Great Black Cormorants on the jetty beneath Harveys Return. We also saw a Tiger Snake crossing the road; many New Zealand Fur Seals at Admiral's Arch; and a load of small, as yet unidentified, lizards at the Remarkable Rocks. As mentioned, Cape Berren Geese were to be found around the approach road to the visitor center.
There was just one thing left to see...