Wednesday, 30 January 2013

BENDIGO AND BEYOND

There were reports of both Chestnut-rumped Heathwren and an Australian Painted Snipe at Crusoe Reservoir in Bendigo and I could not resist the temptation.  Crusoe Reservoir is surrounded by Greater Bendigo National Park, so there was every indication it would provide good birding.  However, I did not plan my trip properly.  I allowed too little time for the snipe, and was a bit unlucky with the heathwren.  But it is a great spot.  I'm pleased to add it to my repertoire.  Next time, I'll allow more time.

Eastern Yellow Robin, photo by Jim Smart

We left Melbourne at 3.15 p.m., and arrived at Crusoe Reservoir at 4.45.  Rog said I could have an hour and (perhaps stupidly) I thought I might be able to get the snipe in that time.  In retrospect, I don't think that was ever going to be possible.  Two hours might be doable.  However, I set off optimistically.  It was quite warm and I was in a hurry.  I decided Crusoe Reservoir might just be the Eastern Yellow Robin capital of Victoria.  There were lots of Dusky Woodswallows too, and a pair of noisy Crested Shrike-tits.  Honeyeaters flew by, but I told myself I was on a mission to see a snipe, and could not dally admiring honeyeaters.  Thanks to Birdline Victoria, I had good directions.  I knew the bird could not be seen from the track, and birders had to bush bash along the shoreline.  It had been last seen on a small inlet 200 metres past the pine plantation.  My plan was to find the pine plantation as quickly as possible, then to leave the track and follow the shoreline.  I knew it was going to be hard work.

Just past the pine plantation, as I was searching for a suitable spot to approach the shoreline, a grey-brown bird flew across the track in front of me.  I did not get a great look, but I saw a long tail, with white outer tips.  It landed on the ground just out of sight.  I thought it could only be a Southern Scrub-robin.  This was worth taking a few minutes to follow up.  So I did.  The bird had other ideas.  It scurried away uncooperatively.  I'm sure it was a Scrub-robin as I can't imagine what else it could possibly have been.  I was most surprised to learn later that the Southern Scrub-robin is not on the birdlist for the Greater Bendigo National Park.  That can't be right.  The habitat is perfect.  And I'm sure that's what I saw.  But then, I can always be mistaken, as has been proved many times.

When my scrub-robin departed unambiguously, I once again turned my attention to the snipe.  I believe I found the inlet where it had been last seen.  The terrain was not inviting.  Foolishly, I looked at my watch and realized I couldn't make it back within my time limit.  I spent a half-hearted five minutes looking for the bird, then reluctantly hurried back to my husband, quite snipe-less.  It was 6 o'clock.  Rog had had a long drive and thought it was time to book into our motel for the night.

The next morning, I started out at Crusoe No 7 Pond looking for Chestnut-rumped Heathwren.  I've never seen these birds in my home state and I wanted to rectify the omission.  Again, thanks to Birdline, I had good directions about where to go.  I found the spot easily, but alas, there were no heathwren this morning.  There were lots of Red-browed Finches and Superb Fairy-wrens and some waterbirds on the water.  The most common bird this morning was the Yellow-tufted Honeyeater.  These are such beautiful birds, I always feel guilty wishing a few would morph into something a little rarer.  Conditions were perfect, and I spent an enjoyable time at Crusoe No 7 Pond.  There simply weren't any heathwren at the designated spot when I was there.  I vowed to return.

Then came the debate.  Was there time to look for the snipe this morning?  The clock was ticking and I dearly wanted to visit Kooyoora State Park, about an hour's drive from Bendigo, where I was hoping to see many wonderful birds.  Birds like Speckled Warblers, Diamond Firetails, Hooded Robins, Rainbow Bee-eaters, Gilbert's Whistlers and Painted Honeyeaters.  Had I known that I was going to dip on every one of these species, I might have devoted some time to the snipe, but, ever the optimist, I decided to be greedy and go for my long list of expected good birds.  With the benefit of hindsight, had I looked for the heathwren yesterday, and the snipe this morning, I might have ticked them both.

So, we set off for Kooyoora State Park.  This park did make it into my "Best 100 Birdwatching Sites in Australia."  It is number 14 - very high on the list.  So you can understand why I was prepared to forego my snipe to get here.

We set off on the Calder Highway, stopping to buy a sandwich in Marong, and turning off the Highway at Inglewood.  (Incidentally, Inglewood used to be a good spot for Southern Scrub-robins, before the Department of Sustainability and Environment decided that the area needed a preventative control burn.)  We took the Melvilles Caves entrance to Kooyoora State Park.  A Wedge-tailed Eagle soured overhead as we drove in.  We saw just one Brown Treecreeper, and many White-throated.  There were White-browed Babblers and Peaceful Doves.
Red-capped Robin, photo by Jim Smart
There were lots of Red-capped Robins, all very friendly, and perhaps even more Mistletoebirds, who simply ignored me.  I did see one aberrant robin.  I decided it was a Scarlet Robin, even though that would be an unusual sighting at Kooyoora in January.  They usually pass through here in winter.   It had a prominent white spot on its forehead, and a splotchy scarlet breast.  But where it should have been black, on its head and back, it was striated grey and white.  Very odd.  I wondered whether it was an aberrant Red-capped Robin, as they were so common hereabouts, but there was no doubting the white spot on its forehead.  Whatever it was, it wasn't as it should be, according to the field guides.

I'd had a most enjoyable 24 hours.  It had been good birding and I told myself that I had no right to complain at what I'd missed out on, I should be happy with what I had seen.  But we birders are inherently greedy.  We always want more.

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