Book Review: Dolby and Clarke’s “Finding Australian Birds”

Long-time readers probably know that we only have two guaranteed years in Australia, so I’ve been strict with myself with regard to buying books. I know that any book I buy will be one I’ll have to take with me or get rid of, and getting rid of books is not something I do easily. So, it must mean something when I bought “Finding Australian Birds” by Tim Dolby and Rohan Clarke.

This book is a summary of hundreds of birding sites across Australia, including those crazy little islands I’ll sadly never visit. I found it in a public library, and after taking it out and renewing it about a dozen times I finally decided I had to buy it.

Yes folks, this book is good. It’s primary purpose is to give you a solid idea of some great birding sites around different places you might visit or live in. Each site starts with a list of “key species” (i.e. species we never see) and “other species”. The description itself usually say something cool about the place, a little about how to navigate it, and what birds you can find. In short, Finding Australian Birds is an excellent first approximation to all your birding adventures. With pictures on almost every page, it also provides a nice mind-trip to those spots that you might not ever get a chance to visit.

Is a book like this still relevant in this day and age of eBird? Absolutely. A book like this is an excellent complement to eBird. Unlike eBird, Finding Australian Birds gives a compact but detailed overview of an area, its birds, and its general feel. eBird then can be used to fine-tune plans with its continuously updated data. In my mind, this book and eBird make a superb team.

Along with a field guide, Finding Australian Birds should be on every birder’s shelf in Australia. Will it help you find the Night Parrot? No. But it’s a good start!

Warby-Ovens National Park

Warby Ovens is a beautiful park located about 230km north and slightly east of Melbourne. It has some great walks like the Friends track, a nice walk up to the summit of Mount Warby. This walk features interpretive signs along with a variety of habitats and good specimens of the slow-growing Austral Grass Trees, some of which are over a hundred years old! We also tried Pine Gully track. It has a nice view of the forest of the park without any glimpse of the endless farmland that covers much of Northern Victoria.

At Warby-Ovens we saw six new birds. We found Buff-rumped and Striated Thornbill. In typical thornbill fashion, these were hard to see clearly. Without taking several pictures of each we would not have been able to identify them. The thornbills are typically in the higher elevations of the park: a good place to look for them is along the Friend’s track and the driving tracks at higher elevations.

At Forest camp we also found Yellow-tufted and Fuscous Honeyeater. Although somewhat slower moving than the thornbills, these also were elusive, preferring the high canopy of the ironbark forest. I couldn’t get satisfying shots of them, but we got fairly good looks including a head-on view of the Yellow-tufted Honeyeater that really shows the tufts.We saw Grey Shrikethrush. It’s supposedly quite common closer to Melbourne but we’ve never seen it there.

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater. It has tufts! Photo by Jason Polak.

Our final find was a little controversial in my mind: two emus. Can anyone claim these fine creatures? They were quite curious and friendly. Since they were in a fenced field, I wasn’t sure if they were wild and hence counted for our list. Quite a few nice individuals responded to a message I posted on the Bird-Aus mailing list about it, and most agreed they were sufficiently wild, even if they might have long ago descended from some captive Emus. Although there is no way to be sure in a case like this, with a little reluctance I added them to the list.

Getting back to obviously wild birds, what about the key species of Turquoise Parrot? Sadly, we saw neither the Turquoise Parrot nor the Swift Parrot. But we did see Galah, Australian King Parrot, Crimson and Eastern Rosella. Besides parrots we also saw Pied Currawong, White-winged Chough, Eastern Spinebill, Jacky Winter, and Laughing Kookaburra.

If you can’t see birds, look at the stars! Photo by Jason Polak.

There were also some gems in the farmland bordering the park. As we were leaving, we saw White-faced Heron in the grass, and nearby was a Masked Lapwing and few Australian Wood Ducks. Another field had dozens of Straw-necked Ibis: an odd and pretty sight. Sometimes we saw an ibis near a cow. Now that’s weird. A multitude of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos were also present, and flew away unusually quickly when we tried to observe them. Maybe they thought we were going to shoot them?

Warby-Ovens is definitely a nice place to visit, and we hope to return one day to find the Turquoise Parrot. Highly recommended!

These currawongs were sad to see us go. Photo by Jason Polak.

My Favourite Bird

Want to know my favourite Australian bird? White-throated Needletail? Sure, that was a cool chance encounter that lasted all of five seconds, but it wasn’t my favourite. What about White-winged Black Tern? Again, neat, but it looks like all the other Terns except it turns black sometimes. In fact, my favourite is the Purple Swamphen!

The Purple Swamphen. Drawing by Jason Polak.

Although common, the Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) has a lot of character. Once at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens we saw it slowly advance on a Dusky Moorhen until the moorhen was forced backwards off the lawn into a pond. Another time we flushed one and it ran like hell into the reeds, instead of flying like a typical bird. Just take a look at this Purple Swamphen party at the Western Treatment Plant:

A Purple Swamphen party, with lots of attitude. Photo by Jason Polak.

Don’t they look like they’re having fun?