Driving over to PP in the dark we had an Otter run along the road before diving into the reeds as we passed Hillman Marsh. As with back home, any day with an Otter sighting was a good day, we just hoped that that was not to be the only highlight.
On entering PP, we stopped at the marsh board walk hoping to connect with the resident Beavers. While Phil, Rob and MJB made there way along the boardwalk, MB decided to stay near the holt. This proved fortuitous as he was able to watch a Beaver swim past him before swimming under the boardwalk into the more open water. On sighting the beaver he signalled to the others and they “rushed” back along the boardwalk – well as fast as they could without making too much disturbance from the floating boardwalk – before getting good views of the Beaver swimming away. An excellent start to the Beaver watch, but better was to come.
Making our way down to the tip on the first tram of the day we joined the group of birders trying to find something worthwhile. The highlight, however, was a group of 4 White-winged Scoter that flew past, close to the tip.
The birding round the tip proved to be quite quiet so we worked our way back to the visitor centre. By this point we had picked up a few new “members” of our group. At the tip we met up with Rick, a Canadian birder we’d met a couple of day’s earlier, who introduced us to another local birder, Michael Runtz. Actually to describe Michael as a birder does him something of a major disservice. While he was an exceptional birder, he was far more than that as he is an outstanding field naturalist.
After a coffee and bite to eat at the centre we headed over to the Tilden Trail. We’d only gone about 50m down the trail and had found an Olive-sided Flycatcher when Michael came running past informing us that a male Kentucky Warbler had just been found, near the Boardwalk car park. It was full reverse into the centre car park, a short drive to the boardwalk car park and join the group of around 20 birders trying to get a glimpse of a renowned skulker. The bird kept us on tender hooks by give brief bursts of song. Then suddenly, there it was sitting on an exposed branch, 5 seconds later it had dropped back down into the undergrowth. Everyone there had managed to get a good look at it. Knowing that was probably as good a view as we were likely to get, we headed back down to Tilden Woods, to try for the Golden-winged, Blue-winged and Cerulean Warblers that had been reported in that area.
A small group of birders where hanging around the stakeout for the Cerulean and we were informed that there was also a male Hooded Warbler in the same tangle, but neither had been seen for some time. There was some confusion on the sex of the Cerulean with reports of both a male and female being reported but both, apparently, referring to the same individual. We decided to explore down one of the seasonal trails that led off from the boardwalk, MJB and Rob stopped to enjoy a male American Redstart that allowed a very close approach – coming within touching distance – as Phil and MB made their way behind the tangle where the two warblers had last been seen. From behind a fallen log, the male Hooded appeared giving Phil and MB great views but MJB and Rob only managed brief glimpses as it disappeared. Almost immediately a vision in pale blue appeared – the Cerulean. Staying in view for only a few seconds, not all got onto it. Was it a male, or a female? Its colour was a pale sky blue rather than the deeper cerulean blue expected for a male but it looked nothing like the drab females illustrated in the guide books. Discussing it later with Michael it appears some females are quite blue, so a female it looks to have been.
Needless to say neither the Golden nor Blue-winged Warblers put in an appearance.
We called into Hillman Marsh again on the way home. A Willet had dropped in and showed off its diagnostic wing pattern as it flew round the scrape area several times. Also new was a female Hooded Merganser.
As we were walking out f the reserve, a local police car drove in, circled the car park and drove out – a couple of minutes after it had passed we all turned to each to comment on the strong aroma of Chips. Knowing there was nothing close by that could be cooking chips we were wondering what else could give off the same aroma as walking past your local chippie. It took about 5 minutes before it dawned on us that the police car was being run on recycled cooking oil. We were to notice the same aroma after an ambulance past us a few days later. Imagine if California Highway Patrols run on used cooking oils – Chips on chips!