This was a three week family holiday with my (non-birdy) wife, Gerda to see our daughter, Heidi who had moved to East Ballina on the east coast of Australia in September last year to join her partner Mat who is working as a mining engineer there. This was our first visit to Australia and although we usually like to travel and explore new places, the family element and the wonderful countryside, birds, people, beaches and overall ambience resulted in us simply enjoying the local area. Even so I managed to see 164 species – of which 118 were new to me.
As stated we didn’t go very far. There was enough to do and see around Ballina to keep me happy bird-wise. The Richmond River flows past the town and Heidi & Mat’s flat overlooked North Creek, one arm of the estuary (I saw 72 species from their balcony). The south shore is a nature reserve, accessible by ferry, and unspoilt; the sandy beaches either side of the river mouth go on forever and are packed with Crested, Common & Little Terns. Indo-Pacific Bottle-nosed Dolphins feed in the river and out to sea you can see up to a dozen pods of the larger Bottle-nosed Dolphins at any one time. We were too late for the migration of Humpback Whales and were told this was a “poor” time of year for pelagics so no boats were running. As most days there were flocks of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters feeding off the river mouth (especially after rain), with occasional Fluttering and Streaked amongst them and a steady passage of Pom and Arctic Skuas, I was happy enough seawatching from the shore anyway. A single Brown Skua, Lesser Frigatebird and occasional Common Noddies added variety.
There is a nature reserve in Ballina itself but I had trouble finding it and was plagued by mosquitoes when I did so I moved on. There are nature reserves and parks everywhere and I visited several in the Lismore area to the west (eg. Nightcap National Park, Wilson Park NR, Rotary Park NR), the Broadwater National Park and Bundjalung National Park near Evans Head to the south and to the north the Cumbebin Swamp NR at Byron Bay. All these were only a short driving distance away and the furthest we ventured inland was to Mt Warning National Park and Crams Farm at the Clarrie Hall Dam near Murwillumbah to the north west.
Okay so it was hot! We knew this was going to be the hottest and the wettest time to visit but our annual leave timetable wasn’t flexible enough to allow us to do anything about it. In the event, although temperatures were in the low 30s and it was rather humid, it didn’t rain more than a couple of times (apparently it made up for this after we left!) and it wasn’t too hot to prevent me walking all day long. ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen’ and all that: my family might have felt otherwise but I took advantage of this to maximise my birding time (dawn to dusk) - even if my feet did swell up a bit and early nights were the order of the day.
Beach Stone Curlews, copyright Dave & Gerda Flumm.
Common Noddy, Richmond River NR, copyright Dave & Gerda Flumm.
Sooty Oystercatcher, Richmond River, copyright Dave & Gerda Flumm.
Black Wallaby, Richmond River, copyright Dave & Gerda Flumm.
Laughing Kookaburra, Crams Fm, Carrie Hall Reservoir, copyright Dave & Gerda Flumm.
White-breasted Woodswallow, Wilson Park NR, copyright Dave & Gerda Flumm.
Australian Brush-turkey: Seen on four dates with max 12 @ Mt Warning on 3rd. They were seen scavenging around picnic areas at Broken Head NR and Byron Bay.
Brown Quail: Up to 8 along dirt road at Richmond River NR on several dates included adults with a chick on 27th.
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: Daily anywhere off the coast. At Ballina flocks were feeding at the river mouth, especially following heavy rain when the discoloured river water attracted up to 2-300 birds quite close inshore. At Cape Byron there were c500 on 23rd.
Streaked Shearwater: A single bird off Ballina 1st & 2nd may have been the same individual.
Fluttering Shearwater: A single bird off Ballina 26th & 2nd.
Australian Pelican: Daily. Max 42 on 20th.
Lesser Frigatebird: Adult female lingering off the headland at Ballina on 1st gradually drifted off north over Angels Beach.
Australasian Darter: Seen most days around the Richmond River but no more than 6/day.
Pied Cormorant: Common. Up to 300/day and nesting colony in trees at Richmond River NR.
Little Pied Cormorant: In small numbers (max 10/day) around Ballina.
Great Cormorant: Single @ Ballina 16th & 20th with 2 on offshore island @ Broken Head 1st.
Little Black Cormorant: Daily Ballina with up to 95 on 5th along Richmond River.
Australasian Grebe: 12 @ Lismore Lake 22nd, 1 Clarrie Hall Reservoir 3rd.
Black Swan: 2 @ Wyrallah Road Sewage Treatment Works, Lismore 18th.
Pacific Black Duck: Widespread. Up to 30/day.
Mallard: Single bird only @ Ballina golf course 24th.
Grey Teal: 2 @ Lismore Lake 22nd.
Hardhead: 2 on a small roadside pool near Mt Nardi, Nightcap National Park on 19th.
Australian Wood Duck: Widespread. Max 54 on 22nd.
Buff-banded Rail: Single by roadside creek @ Richmond River NR 28th.
Dusky Moorhen: On freshwater ponds and lakes with max 25 @ Clarrie Hall Reservoir and 10 in Murwillunbah on 3rd.
Purple Swamphen: As above species with max 12 on a small roadside pool near Mt Nardi, Nightcap National Park on 19th, 15 @ Richmond Birdwing Butterfly Gully, Lismore 22nd and 20 @ Clarrie Hall Reservoir 3rd.
White-necked Heron: Only one seen – fields near Bicentennial Gardens, Ballina on 1st.
White-faced Heron: Widespread. Max 17/day.
Cattle Egret: Common & widespread. Max 300/day.
Eastern Great Egret: Only a few seen. Max 6 in the Ballina/Richmond River area.
Little Egret: 2 in the Richmond River/North Creek area and 1 @ Chickiba Lake, Ballina.
Intermediate Egret: Up to 3 in the Richmond River/North Creek area.
Eastern Reef Egret: Seen on four dates around the coast. Only 2-3 birds involved.
Striated Heron: Single birds seen on four dates.
Australian White Ibis: Common & widespread. Max 250 19th during a drive to Nightcap National Park & Tweed River area.
Straw-necked Ibis: 30 seen driving between Brisbane & Ballina 16th then 12 over Ballina 1st and 2 there 4th & 7th.
Royal Spoonbill: Single bird Ballina area three dates with 4 @ Lismore Lake 22nd.
Black-necked Stork: Adult @ Chickiba Lake, Ballina on 1st.
Ruddy Turnstone: Four @ Flat Rock, Ballina most visits.
Eastern Curlew: Daily Richmond River area with max 54 there on 6th.
Whimbrel: Daily Richmond River area with 62 on 20th.
Grey-tailed Tattler: Seen five dates along the coast with max 5 on 17th & 20th.
Common Greenshank: Four in the Richmond River area.
Terek Sandpiper: Up to 18 in the North Creek/ Richmond River area.
Latham’s Snipe: 3 @ Clarrie Hall Reservoir on 3rd.
Black-tailed Godwit: 1-2 in the North Creek/ Richmond River area.
Bar-tailed Godwit: Common North Creek/ Richmond River area. Max 140 20th & 116 6th.
Red Knot: 3 North Creek 17th..
Great Knot: Seen only North Creek/ Richmond River area with peak counts 30 16th, 31 on 5th and 34 on 6th.
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper: At the high tide roost @ Chickiba Lake, Ballina there were 5 on 24th & 10 on 1st. There were 14 on the Richmond River on 5th.
Red-necked Stint: Recorded 10 dates North Creek/ Richmond River area, Chickiba Lake and Flat Rock but no more than 45/day.
Curlew Sandpiper: Recorded 5 dates North Creek/ Richmond River area and Chickiba Lake with peak count 30 on 6th.
Sanderling: Recorded four dates only. Max 11 on 5th.
Comb-crested Jacana: Two @ Clarrie Hall Dam 19th with 4 there 3rd, 1 Lismore Lake 22nd.
Beach Stone-curlew: A pair on small saltmarsh behind beach @ Richmond River Nature Reserve 27th & 28th Feb. showed well from dirt road.
Australian Pied Oystercatcher: Daily. Peak count 46 Richmond River/North Creek area 20th.
Sooty Oystercatcher: Seen most days Richmond River/North Creek area and also at Flat Rock but no more than 5/day.
Masked Lapwing: Common & widespread. Max count 110 on 22nd.
Pacific Golden Plover: Daily Richmond River/North Creek area. Max counts 162 on 20th & 160 1st.
Lesser Sand Plover: Up to 10 Richmond River/North Creek area 17th – 2nd.
Greater Sand Plover: Singles Richmond River/North Creek area 17th & 24th with 3 on 2nd & 4 on 3rd.
Red-capped Plover: 15 Richmond River/North Creek area 17th with 1 on 2nd & 3 on 3rd.
Black-fronted Dotterel: Four @ Lismore Lake 22nd.
Black-winged Stilt: Seen five dates Richmond River/North Creek area with max 10 on 20th.
Brown/South Polar Skua: Single off Ballina Head 2nd was either a S.lonnbergi or South Polar.
Arctic Skua: Seen daily on seawatches off Ballina Head with max count 20 on 2nd.
Pomarine Skua: At Ballina Head: singles 20th, 25th, 1st & 4th with 2 on 27th & 28th, 3 on 26th, 9 on 2nd and 15 on 3rd. Some were adults with full spoons.
Silver Gull: Common & widespread. Up to 400 Richmond River/North Creek/beaches area.
Caspian Tern: Single bird Richmond River/North Creek area 16th & 26th was presumed same.
Gull-billed Tern: Four Richmond River on 6th.
Common Tern: c300 mostly immatures but with adults in full winter plumage in the Richmond River-Flat Rock area around Ballina and others along the coast elsewhere. I was puzzled by these and am very grateful to Trevor Ford and Jill Dening for help with the ageing and identification of this race, S.h.longipennis.
Little Tern: Probably >400 in the Richmond River-Flat Rock area around Ballina (count of 260 @ Richmond River & North Creek alone on 20th) included at least six individuals with all yellow bills. Four of these were ringed/colour ringed but I was unable to read the ring numbers or ascertain the colour combinations precisely. Wondering if they were (vagrant) Fairy Terns I sent my photos to Jill Dening and am grateful to Jill for her confirmation that they were all just Little Terns. Probably <1% of the adult summer plumaged Little Terns I saw had all-yellow bills, the rest showing black tips (as in Britain). There were many still in winter plumage with dark bills so it is uncertain what the overall percentage of all-yellows: yellow & black will be later in the year here. Jill was able to establish those I photographed were of the Northern Hemisphere, not the Australian race.
Crested Tern: Probably >500 in the Richmond River-Flat Rock area around Ballina.
Common Noddy: One fishing at mouth of Richmond River 20th, one Flat Rock 24th, two there next day when one also over our flat in East Ballina, one at South Ballina beach 28th.
Pacific Baza: Adult calling in roadside Eucalyptus trees below Mt Nardi on 19th showed well.
Australian Black-shouldered Kite: Two en route to Mt Nardi 19th and one Lismore area 22nd.
Eastern Osprey: Breeding on special purpose-built platforms around Ballina. Seen daily.
Whistling Kite: Seen daily. Widespread but in small numbers. Max count 9 on 5th.
Brahminy Kite: Seen most days but never >3-4/day.
White-bellied Sea-Eagle: Seen most days in the Richmond River/North Creek area with up to 5/day.
Wedge-tailed Eagle: Seen on six dates: a pair @ Nimbin Rocks 19th, 5 from our flat 20th involved birds south and west of Ballina, pair near Lismore Lake 22nd, single from our flat 25th, single Crams Farm, Clarrie Hall Reservoir 3rd and a pair west of Patches Beach, Wardell 5th.
Brown Goshawk: Single Ballina 20th & 5th with another over Richmond River NR on last date.
Grey Goshawk: Single mobbing Pacific Baza in roadside Eucalyptus trees below Mt Nardi on 19th and another circling over Rotary Park, Lismore on 22nd.
Swamp Harrier: Single near Lennox Head 23rd.
Australian Hobby: Single ‘playing with’ two Pied Butcherbirds along road at Richmond River NR on 27th gave good views.
Nankeen Kestrel: Three only: one near Coraki 22nd, Ballina and Cape Byron on 23rd.
White-headed Pigeon: Seen on nine dates. Max 12 on 19th at various locations.
Feral Pigeon: Mercifully few. No more than 30/day and only seen in a few towns. A flock of c25 are in East Ballina.
Spotted Dove: Widespread in small numbers. Up to 15/day.
Brown Cuckoo-Dove: Six Mt Nardi picnic area 19th, 3 Rotary Park in Lismore 22nd, 1 south of Byron Bay 2nd and 1 @ Crams Farm with 2 @ Mt Warning NP 3rd.
Bar-shouldered Dove: Seen on eight dates with max 13 Richmond River NR on 28th.
Emerald Dove: A pair at Wilson Park NR 18th and a single bird at Richmond Birdwing Butterfly Gully, Lismore on 22nd.
Crested Pigeon: Common & widespread. Up to 30-40/day at East Ballina. c100 counted on 3rd at various locations.
Wonga Pigeon: Single on village green @ Uki, Mount Warning NP 3rd and 2 in hills near Cumbebin Swamp, Byron Bay 6th.
Glossy Black-Cockatoo: A group of three flew north across Richmond River at East Ballina on 24th.
Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo: A noisy group of five at Richmond Birdwing Butterfly Gully, Lismore on 22nd.
Galah: Seen most days, often in pairs. A few small flocks with one of 40 at East Ballina 25th.
Little Corella: A flock of 130 along North Wall, East Ballina when we arrived gradually declined to only a few by the end of our stay. They would be seen regularly flying inland in a southwest direction beyond North Creek to presumably feed elsewhere.
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo: Single flock of 12 at Nimbin Rocks on 19th.
Rainbow Lorikeet: Common and widespread, the most commonly encountered parot/lorikeet. Up to 400/day.
Scaly-breasted Lorikeet: Always a couple of pairs around the flat in East Ballina. Few elsewhere.
Crimson Rosella: One flew across the road whilst we were en route to Mt Nardi on 19th.
Eastern Rosella: Seen daily but no more than 10/day and often only two/day.
Shining Bronze-Cuckoo: Two seen well in Cumbebin Swamp, Byron Bay on 2nd.
Pheasant Coucal: Singles @ Broadwater NP 21st, Lennox Head 23rd, Cumbebin Swamp, Byron Bay on 2nd and Ballina NR on 4th.
Southern Boobook: Single by roadside at Mt Warning NP 3rd flew off into trees and one dead on the road at Ballina NR next day.
White-throated Needletail: Up to 100 around Ballina most days and a flock of 230 at Lennox Head 3rd.
Azure Kingfisher: Single on creek at Richmond River NR and another in rainforest at Cumbebin Swamp NR, Byron Bay on 2nd.
Laughing Kookaburra: Seen on most days (even on our balcony!) with max 12 at various locations 3rd.
Rainbow Bee-eater: Seen on 11 dates with the largest flocks of 52 over our balcony 28th and next day with 45 over Richmond River NR on 6th.
Dollarbird: Seen most days, up to 5-6 day.
Forest Kingfisher: Two near Lismore 19th and 4 @ Crams Farm, Clarrie Hall Reservoir 3rd.
Sacred Kingfisher: In the Ballina area there were two @ North Creek, two Lake Chickiba and one @ Richmond River NR - all seen many dates.
Superb Fairy-wren: Seen on nine dates around the Ballina area. Max 6/day.
Variegated Fairy-wren: Seen on five dates with max. 12 at Cumbebin Swamp NR, Byron Bay on 2nd.
Red-backed Fairy-wren: A pair at Lennox Head 1st with 5 there 6th and 1 @ Crams Farm, Clarrie Hall Reservoir 3rd.
Striated Pardalote: Singles Richmond River NR 28th and from our balcony, East Ballina 2nd.
Large-billed Scrubwren: Single @ Bundjalung NP 4th.
White-browed Scrubwren: Three Broadwater NP 21st, two Chickiba Lake, Ballina 1st, two Bicentennial Gardens in Ballina and one at Cumbebin Swamp NR, Byron Bay on 2nd.
White-throated Gerygone: A single bird at Wilson Park NR, Lismore 18th.
Brown Gerygone: Two Nightcap National Park 19th.
Brown Thornbill: Seen on six dates with max 8 on 2nd in Cumbebin Swamp NR, Byron Bay.
Yellow Thornbill: Five at Cumbebin Swamp NR, Byron Bay on 2nd with four again there 6th.
Little Wattlebird: Seen almost daily; quite common coastal Banksia bushes. Max count 100 on 4th.
Striped Honeyeater: A single bird at Richmond River NR 28th with three there next day.
Noisy Friarbird: Two Richmond Birdwing Butterfly Gully 22nd, two Cape Byron next day and five @ our flat, East Ballina 6th.
Little Friarbird: 10 at the (northern) park entrance to Bundjalung NP on 4th.
Blue-faced Honeyeater: Daily at the flat, East Ballina. Not particularly common but 30 seen various places on 2nd included 20 at Byron Bay.
Noisy Miner: Fairly common & widespread. Seen daily. Up to 60/day.
Lewin’s Honeyeater: Seen most days. Widespread in small numbers. Max 24 on 4th.
White-cheeked Honeyeater: Locally common eg. 105 @ Broadwater NP 21st, 40 Bundjalung NP 4th.
Brown Honeyeater: Seen six dates but no more than 15/day.
Scarlet Honeyeater: Two @ Mt Warning NP 3rd.
Logrunner: Eight @ Nightcap NP 19th.
Eastern Whipbird: Eight @ Nightcap NP 19th with others heard @ Cumbebin Swamp NR, Byron Bay and Broken Head NR as well as from our balcony, East Ballina.
Eastern Yellow Robin: Two Nightcap NP 19th, one Broadwater NP 21st, two Rotary Park, Lismore 22nd, one at Broken Head NR 1st and one @ Cumbebin Swamp NR, Byron Bay on 6th.
Little Shrike-thrush: Two at Broken Head NR 1st and one @ Bundjalung NP on 4th.
Grey Shrike-thrush: Singles North Creek, Ballina 20th, and Richmond River NR 27th with another there next day, Bicentennial Gardens, Ballina 2nd and four at Cumbebin Swamp NR, Byron Bay on 6th.
Rufous Whistler: Female @ Richmond River NR 27th with five (including a male) there next day.
Grey Fantail: Single @ Broadwater NP 21st and Richmond River NR 28th.
Rufous Fantail: Two @ Wilson Park NR, Lismore 18th, one in Bicentennial Gardens, Ballina and six in Cumbebin Swamp NR, Byron Bay on 2nd with one there 6th and one @ Bundjalung NP on 4th.
Willie Wagtail: Widespread but no more than 5-10 day. 15 at various sites on 5th.
Leaden Flycatcher: One @ Broadwater NP 21st, a pair at the beach car park, Richmond River NR 27th and three females at Cumbebin Swamp NR, Byron Bay on 6th.
Black-faced Monarch: One @ Wilson Park NR, Lismore 18th and two immatures @ Cumbebin Swamp NR, Byron Bay on 6th.
Spectacled Monarch: An immature in a mixed flock with above species @ Cumbebin Swamp NR, Byron Bay on 6th showed well along road.
Magpie-lark: Daily in small numbers but 50 seen on 19th at various locations.
Spangled Drongo: Seen most days but usually only 1-3/day. 8 on 18th were max. recorded.
Australasian Figbird: Seen daily. Up to 50-60 around our flat in East Ballina.
Green Catbird: Single bird on 22nd at Rotary Park, Lismore was a surprise.
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike: Daily but 8/day was the max count.
Varied Triller: Singles Richmond River NR 28th and Broadwater NP 4th.
White-breasted Woodswallow: Seen most days with max 20 on 20th.
Grey Butcherbird: Two Richmond River Birdwing Gully, Lismore and another two at the “Koala Reserve”, Broadwater 22nd. Four @ Cape Byron 23rd and one at Chickiba Lake, Ballina next day. One @ Broken Head NR 1st, one from our balcony East Ballina 2nd and one at Ballina NR 4th.
Pied Butcherbird: Widespread. Up to 50/day.
Australian Magpie: Widespread. Common. Up to 200/day.
Pied Currawong: Widespread. Common. Up to 150/day.
Torresian Crow: Widespread. Common. Up to 150/day.
Welcome Swallow: Up to 150/day when we first arrived but fewer thereafter.
Tree Martin: Seen on eight dates with max 200 at Wilson Park NR, Lismore 18th.
Fairy Martin: Seen on three dates with max 10 on our first day.
Australian Pipit: One near Lismore 22nd and three near Lennox Head next day.
Golden-headed Cisticola: Seven at meadows near Wilson Park NR, Lismore 18th, two @ Ballina NR 4th and two near Ballina 6th.
House Sparrow: Not many - thank goodness! Only recorded on six dates and max was only 10 on 23rd.
Red-browed Firetail: Recorded on seven dates in various locations. Up to 10/day on two dates.
Chestnut-breasted Mannikin: Eight near Wilson Park NR, Lismore 18th, two near Coraki 22nd and eight at Ballina NR 4th.
Mistletoebird: Two at Wilson Park NR, Lismore 18th with singles at Richmond River NR 27th &28th.
Silvereye: A few seen on nine dates at various localities but no more than 10 birds/day.
Common Myna: Recorded five dates in different localities but no more than 6 birds/day.
Common Bottle-nosed Dolphin, Tursiops truncatus: Hundreds all along the coast.
Indo-Pacific Bottle-nosed Dolphin, Tursiops aduncus: Only seen in Richmond River from Massingham Bridge.
Black Wallaby, Wallabia bicolour: Six seen in total.
Grey-headed Flying-fox, Pteropus poliocephalus: Huge roosts – thousands of individuals.
Lace Monitor, Varanus varius: Only one seen - at Byron Bay on 23rd but a real monster.
Eastern Water Dragon, Physignathus lesueurii: Common and widespread.
Land Mullet, Egernia major: Only one seen – a large black skink at Bundjalung NR on 4th March.
Cream-striped Shining-skink, Cryptoblepharus virgatus: Common.