Monday, 17 January 2022

BANYULE

This morning I visited Banyule for the first time this year.  As I drove down Burke Road, I pondered that my bird total for the year was presently 97 and it would be good if I could manage to add three new species to that list this morning.


At Banyule, I parked in the carpark and set off immediately for the Grotty Pond.  Birders know the Grotty Pond because a female Australian Painted Snipe famously turned up here in November 2001.  Today, my expectations were much more modest.  I was hoping for a Buff-banded Rail, but a Latham's Snipe would do.  In days gone by, I often saw Latham's Snipe at Banyule, but it's been a while since I've seen one here.  Alas!  When I reached the Grotty Pond, I saw that the reeds had grown and it was impossible to view the water or its all-important edges from the walking track.  I was surprised to see this as it is not very long since I've visited this spot, and admired Dusky Moorhen at the water's edge together with their cute fluffy black young.  There would be no rails, no snipe and no moorhen today.

I walked back to the lake (pictured above).  Here, again, there was a surprise for me.  The lake had evaporated significantly, leaving some inviting muddy banks, perfect for dotterels I thought.  Evidently the dotterels disagreed.  There were lots of Masked Lapwing, some Pacific Black Duck, quite a few Silver Gulls, one pair of Australasian Grebes, one pair of Chestnut Teal, some Eurasian Coots and some Dusky Moorhens, but no dotterels.

I set off for the river, where there used to be a reliable colony of Bell Miners.  I was thinking of all the easy birds I hadn't yet seen this year:  New Holland Honeyeaters, Eastern Yellow Robins, Spotted Pardalotes.  Surely I could find just three this morning.  Then, out of the blue, without a sound, a Sacred Kingfisher flew to greet me.  He sat right in front of me, wanting to be admired.  I was happy to comply.  Tick.  Number 98 for the year.

My spirits lifted considerably.  At the river, I heard a Grey Shrike-thrush and saw Brown Thornbills, Superb Fairywrens, lots of Grey Fantails and a couple of White-browed Scrubwren.  I did not see any Powerful Owls.  Nor did I see any Eastern Yellow Robins - what an easy bird to be missing!

I walked past the windmill and took the turn back to the main walking track.  There were too many Noisy Miners (of course!) and plenty of Red Wattlebirds, but no hint of robins or Mistletoebirds or indeed anything else I was missing from my list.

Disappointed, I thought I'd go home, but instead, I turned to the right and wandered down to the bridge.  How many years ago were Owlet-nightjars seen here?  I turned to go home, thinking I'd have to be satisfied with a bird total of 98, then a pair of Australian King Parrots (pictured below) flushed from the bushes by the river.  Excellent.  Number 99.



Immediately, from the direction of the golf course, I heard Little Corellas.  I have difficulty discerning the calls of corellas, but I was sure this call was Little, not Long-billed.  I searched the gum trees over the creek, and, sure enough, there were several Little Corellas.  Number 100.  I could go home happy.

In my abysmal birding year of 2021, it took until May for me to reach the grand total of 100 species.  In 2022, I had it on 18 January.  Hooray!  Perhaps things are looking up.

Thursday, 6 January 2022

WONDERFUL WERRIBEE!

 Yesterday I went to Werribee, the first time since it re-opened after lockdown.  I had only a couple of hours, but I clocked up 70 species and it was wonderful!

The weather forecast was for thunderstorms, so I took a raincoat, but I didn't need it.  There was some spectacular forked lightning, looking terrific with the You Yangs as a backdrop, and some very loud thunder, but very few drops of rain.  The thunder was interesting because of the reaction of the birds.  Thousands and thousands of shelduck took to the air, in response to a loud clap of thunder.  In fact none of the birds liked it at all.  A flock of sandpipers took fright in front of me, just as I was enjoying them.  I don't remember ever witnessing birds' reaction to thunder before.

I started my visit at the far end of Point Wilson Road, looking for Brolga, but there were none to be seen.  Next stop was the T-section where the shelduck put on their thunder display.  By the time I shut the gate to leave, I had a list of 41 species.  The best sightings were a Horsfield's Bushlark together with a Striated Fieldwren feeding a young bird (photographer's delight!) and a couple of cooperative Stubble Quail.  Apart from that, all the usual suspects were present:  ducks, pipits, skylarks, cormorants and Common Greenshanks.  I was ridiculously pleased to see a European Greenfinch, as I hadn't seen one for the whole of 2021.  One interesting omission from my list was a Eurasian Coot, often in big numbers here.

Next stop was the Western Lagoons where I was hoping to add crakes to my list.  I had no luck with crakes, but I did manage a magnificent White-bellied Sea-Eagle, three Blue-winged Parrots, a Brown Falcon, a scrubwren, some terns and waders and, best of all, five beautiful Brolgas.

Very pleased with my Brolgas, I drove along Beach Road to the jetty.  Here I scanned the bay for Australasian Gannets, then, successful, I drove back into the farm near Freckled Duck Rock.  It is a long time since I've seen Freckled Duck sitting on Freckled Duck Rock, but they used to be reliable, and I think the name will stick forever, with me at least.  Alas, there were no Freckled Duck yesterday.

Freckled Duck in days gone by with Freckled Ducks


I took the coast road to the bird hide, along the way adding Musk Duck and Blue-billed Duck to my list.  The tide was too far in to make visiting the bird hide worthwhile, so I continued on past Lake Borrie to Paradise Road.  I heard, but did not see, Little Grassbird.  An Australian Reed Warbler was more cooperative, flying along the road ahead of the car.  I saw just nine Pink-eared Ducks in a pond opposite Lake Borrie - the only pinkies for the day.

Just as I was leaving the farm, some Zebra Finches came to farewell me and I saw the only Whistling Kite of the day overhead (surprising omission until then).  Some Red-rumped Parrots flew into the gum trees, eager to get themselves onto my list.

There were far too many rabbits and one hare.  I was sorry I didn't see a Cape Barren Goose and I would have liked more waders.  I particularly missed avocets, but I didn't get to the Borrow Pits.  With only two hours, I did pretty well.  The Brolgas were beautiful, and I had excellent views of both the bushlark and the fieldwrens, but for me, the bird of the day was the Stubble Quail, which I hadn't seen since January 2014.  Altogether, it was a great couple of hours:  the best possible antidote to lockdown blues.

Thursday, 2 December 2021

HUDSONIAN WHIMBREL

Summer is here and the Western Treatment Plant at Werribee is open at last!  What more could a birder want?  A twitch, that's what!

It seems a very long time since I've been on a twitch.  In fact, it's not that long really.  In January, 2020, I travelled to Sydney for the Kentish Plover.  With all these enforced lockdowns, it seems much longer ago than 22 months.

With great excitement I learnt that a Hudsonian Whimbrel had turned up at Toora in Gippsland.  This bird has recently been granted species status by the IOC and this is the first record for Australia.   I simply had to go and see it.   I read that it is a large dark whimbrel with an obvious white supercilium.  The illustration from the 'HBW and Birdlife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World' is the best I can do.




It was two days after my cataract surgery and my sight could have been better, but I decided I'd be satisfied if I saw a large, dark whimbrel.

Toora is about two and a quarter hours drive from Melbourne.  There are lots of mangroves and a well positioned bird hide.  As we drove into the carpark, we met the local farmer who'd discovered the bird.  He said he'd found it last July, but he didn't know what it was.  

We went straight to the bird hide to learn that the bird had been seen earlier in the day, but was no longer visible anywhere.  We could see some godwits and some very handsome Royal Spoonbills.  The tide looked about as far in as it was possible to be, so there were no mudflats to inspect.

Disappointed that we'd had a long, fruitless drive, we went for a walk to the boat jetty.  There, unmistakably, perched on top of a mangrove, was a large, dark whimbrel.  With the scope, others could see the obvious white supercilium.  I was satisfied with my big dark whimbrel.  Obligingly, a group of other, noticeably smaller, whimbrels sat nearby.  That made sense.  Our bird had been reported as being a loner.  So we hadn't had a fruitless drive at all.

Toora, where we saw the Hudsonian Whimbrel


Sunday, 28 November 2021

DAREBIN PARKLANDS

Every time I drive up Grange Road in Alphington, I see a sign to Darebin Parklands and think 'I must go there one day.'  Today I did.  I walked via Willsmere Billabong.  And what a pleasant walk it was.



There were no small birds (always a disappointment) but there were Australasian Grebes in gorgeous breeding plumage, Chestnut Teal, many Maned Duck, a few Red-rumped Parrots (which seem to be getting rarer) and lots and lots of Grey Butcherbirds.  Perhaps the large number of butcherbirds explains the lack of small birds.  But perhaps not.  I put it down to Noisy Miners which are taking over and displacing all passerines smaller than themselves.


All the usual suspects were present.  There were both Red and Little Wattlebirds, Welcome Swallows, a few Musk Lorikeets, several Pacific Black Duck and a single Crested Pigeon.  

My most interesting sighting was on the way:  I saw a Little Raven consuming nectar from a Silky Oak.  The Silky Oaks around here are having a very good year, flowering prolifically.  I know that Little Ravens are omnivorous, but I could find no record of them eating nectar.  The late great Graham Pizzey told me that when you see Little Ravens at road kill, they are eating the flies attracted to the carrion, not the carrion itself.  Graham told me that Little Ravens only eat live prey and that may well have been true at the time.  But I believe they are now opportunistic.  I have seen them enjoying people's discarded pizza.  The National Photographic Index states they are 'mainly insectivorous.'  HANZAB says the Little Raven is 'omnivorous but considered specialist insectivore.'   And now we can add nectar to the long list of foods they will eat.

Darebin Parklands


Wednesday, 17 November 2021

WEST GATE PARK


West Gate Park


Wednesday was the only day this week when the sun promised to shine, so I decided it would be a good day to visit West Gate Park, a little oasis of greenery hiding under the West Gate Bridge in Port Melbourne. 

I'm not sure when I last visited this park.  I know I was there in May 2009; perhaps that was the last time.   I used to go there looking for crakes.  There were always several species of honeyeaters and lots of waterbirds.  I remember being bombed by Pied Stilts (that we used to call Black-winged Stilts).  And I remember seeing Singing Honeyeaters and (Roger's favourite) New Holland Honeyeaters. 

The carpark was almost empty when I arrived.  I was delighted to have the park almost to myself, and even more delighted when Superb Fairywrens came to greet me.  They certainly seemed to want to make friends.  The lake was full.  There were no muddy verges for crakes, so I reconciled myself to the fact that I'd be going home without them on my list.  I saw several White-plumed Honeyeaters but few Noisy Miners and Red Wattlebirds, putting me in a good mood as I set off to walk around the lake.  A Willie Wagtail chattered happily.  I saw only one pair of Black Swans, but they had six teenage cygnets.


I could hear Australian Reed Warblers.  Why did we change their name?  Clamorous Reed Warbler was so appropriate.  There were at least four or five reed warblers, calling from different patches of reeds.  I stood for several minutes in various different spots trying to see one, but had no luck.  I saw moorhen and coots and Chestnut Teal.  One Little Pied Cormorant flew when I thought of approaching him.

Halfway around the lake, I saw my first New Holland Honeyeater and stood to admire him.  I don't see them in Kew any more.  I heard, then saw, one Grey Fantail, like me, enjoying the sunshine.

In a short visit, I had clocked up twenty species - more than I achieved on my most recent visit to Banyule.  When I returned, there were a few more cars in the carpark, but I'd hardly been aware of any other people on my walk.  I was about to leave, when suddenly a bright green bird flew remarkably fast overhead.  Was it a Musk Lorikeet?  I tried to locate where it had gone.  Then I found it, looping around the sky.  It wasn't a bird at all.  It was a small green drone.  Can't put that on my bird list!

I can recommend West Gate Park, a pleasant spot on a weekday.  I don't think you'll see a crake, but you might luck on to an Australian Reed Warbler.  If not, like me, you'll have to be satisfied with a New Holland Honeyeater.



Thursday, 11 November 2021

A WEEK OF BIRDING

Today I had intended to go to the Maranoa Gardens, hoping for an Eastern Spinebill or perhaps a Grey Currawong.  But it is too wet.

I have had a busy week of birding until today.  On Monday I visited Wilson Reserve, on Tuesday I drove to Jells Park, on Wednesday I went to Trin-Warren Tam-Boore in Royal Park and yesterday I drove to Karkarook.

There's not much to see at Wilson Reserve that I can't see at Burke Road Billabong.  I walk to Burke Road Billabong, but Wilson Reserve, on the other side of the Yarra, is a little further, and I must drive.  I haven't seen the Powerful Owls there for a long time, and I've never seen any crakes, although others have reported them there.  I have seen frogmouths in the past, and an occasional Azure Kingfisher.  The two species I see reliably at Wilson Reserve (but not at Burke Road Billabong) are Willie Wagtails (my favourite bird) and Bell Miners.

Jell's Park

I go to Jell's Park to see Australasian Darters.  There are usually quite a few there.  On Tuesday I struggled to find one, but I did eventually.  I also found a pair of Pink-eared Ducks, which I haven't seen there before, and one very vocal Fan-tailed Cuckoo, which I admired at my leisure.  I'm not sure why, but several people stopped to ask me what I was looking at.  That one little cuckoo has never been the centre of so much attention!  I had a pleasant walk and clocked up 27 species in about an hour.

Wednesday was wet and I would have reconsidered my planned trip to Trin Warren Tam-Boore, except that I'd agreed to meet my sister-in-law, who lives nearby.  Despite the inclement weather, we managed 23 species, most notably a White-plumed Honeyeater, my first for the year.  Most numerous were Silver Gulls and Australian White Ibis.  My hoped-for Eastern Great Egret did not eventuate and I had to make do with a couple of swans.  I did see a Red-rumped Parrot, which I think are becoming rarer around Melbourne.

I don't know why, Karkarook always seems a long drive.  I'm sure it's no further than Jells Park, but with slow progress down Warrigal Road, it always seems a long trip.  I recorded 26 species in less than an hour, but could not see some very noisy, I might say clamorous, Australian Reed Warblers, which I spent some minutes trying to locate.  I've given up looking for Blue-billed Ducks (who am I kidding?  I always look!) which used to be reliable here.  And I fear that both Greenfinches and Goldfinches are no longer to be found at Karkarook.  I had great views of a very handsome pair of Hoary-headed Grebes and the best bird of the morning was one Little Grassbird that was determined to get onto my list and kept hopping out of the reeds into sight.

Eastern Spinebill, photo by Ken Haines


So I've had a good week of birding and I mustn't complain that I missed out on my trip to Maranoa Gardens.  I'll bet there were dozens of spinebills dancing in the rain and Grey Currawongs waiting for me in the carpark.  We will never know what I missed!

Thursday, 4 November 2021

BURKE ROAD BILLABONG

 I can't believe it is November already.  I welcome every new month, as each bird I see on the first of the month is a new bird for that month.  Melbourne's lockdowns did seem interminable, however, counterintuitively, November seems to be here very quickly.

Today I visited the Burke Road Billabong.  On the way there I saw a Masked Lapwing, and on the way home I saw a Black-faced Cuckooshrike.  Neither of these birds is common in Kew East.

Track at Burke Road Billabong

Burke Road Billabong attracts lots of cyclists and a few joggers, but the big advantage is that there are no dog walkers.  For some reason best known to themselves, they are all on the north side of the river.  And of course, the bigger advantage is that it is great for birds.

I always see fairywrens, scrubwrens and grey fantails. I usually see Brown Thornbills and hear Spotted Pardalotes.  I often see spinebills and yellow robins.  I sometimes see a Grey Shrikethrush or a White-faced Heron.  I have yet to see a kingfisher of any sort.  This morning I heard, then finally saw, an Olive-backed Oriole.  What a beautiful song!

Last time I was here, I was accompanied on part of my walk by two male Red-rumped Parrots.  Eastern Rosellas are often around, and ubiquitous Rainbow Lorikeets make their presence felt.

Although the track is beside the Yarra River, I do not often add waterbirds to my list.  I come here for the bush birds.



Sometimes the Eastern Yellow Robin comes to say hello, sometimes he remains aloof high in the canopy, calling just to make sure I know he is there.

Eastern Yellow Robin, photo by Ken Haines


I haven't mentioned the common birds:  Red Wattlebirds and Noisy Miners (of course!), Little Ravens, Pied Currawongs, Magpies and Magpie-larks.  There are raucous calls from white cockies and beautiful music from Grey Butcherbirds.  The only exotics I've seen (so far) are Spotted Doves and Common Blackbirds.  In years gone by, I'm sure there would have been Red-whiskered Bulbuls.  It is hard to regret the passing of an exotic!

Burke Road Billabong is a lovely spot for bush birds.  I only discovered it recently and I'm sure it has many treasures in store for me.  Meanwhile, I'm happy with my fairywrens and yellow robins.