Sunday, 31 March 2013


Most people look forward to the Easter break and the opportunities the holiday brings.  I usually lock the door and keep my head down, far from the madding crowd.  However, I am always tempted to go birding on the first of the month, and, as I was thwarted in my attempt to visit Trin Warren Tam-Boore last week, because the car park was full of tradies' cars, I figured if I visited on Easter Monday, I'd have the car park to myself.  And so it proved to be.  The building site was silent:  the car park was mine.

Trin Warren Tam-Boore is an artificial wetland on the far west corner of Royal Park, in Parkville, within the City of Melbourne.  It is a birdy haven, now surrounded by residential development.  As far as I can tell, all the vegetation has been planted.  Even most of the large gum trees appear to me to be species not endemic to Parkville.

Hard to believe this is just a couple of kilometres from Melbourne's CBD

The skies were grey; conditions were not ideal.  As I walked along the path to the wetlands, the smell of a Lemon-scented Gum was more alluring than any hot cross bun.  The wetlands attract all the usual suspects.   The swamphens, moorhens and coots were there in numbers this morning, although I didn't think there was the usual complement of ducks.  I had just three:  Pacific Black Duck and Grey and Chestnut Teal.  There was also a very attractive family of Australasian Grebes, with teenage chicks with stripy heads.  A Willie Wagtail sat, unusually passive, while a New Holland Honeyeater attacked a pair of Little Wattlebirds.  Little Wattlebirds are common in Melbourne, yet I didn't see one in March and I was pleased to get them onto my April list.  A Little Grassbird called once, but I couldn't see it.  Nothing special, but I'd started April off with a list of 23 species.

I decided to call in at Willsmere Billabong on my way home.  I thought I'd be able to add a few bush birds.  With any luck, I might even see a cuckoo or an Azure Kingfisher.

Yarra River, Willsmere Park

I used to see an Azure Kingfisher here regularly, but I haven't seen him for a while.  The problem is that it was a single bird.  He never had the opportunity to breed.  I fear he has gone forever, but I can hope that he is hiding upstream, perhaps having found a mate.

The park was quiet this morning, apart from raucous Rainbow Lorikeets and ubiquitous Noisy Miners.  I managed to add five species to my April list, but one happy bounding labrador ensured that the bronzewing I'd hoped for was not present.  I missed out on my scrubwrens too, normally guaranteed here.  I guess nothing is guaranteed in the birding world.  A pleasant morning, a good start to April.

Friday, 29 March 2013


So that was March.  I have no right to be disappointed in my March achievements when I visited Rutherglen and Chiltern and saw such beautiful birds as Turquoise Parrots, Red-capped Robins, Leaden Flycatchers and White-breasted Woodswallows.  I also saw Brown Quail and Square-tailed Kite that I don't see often.  But disappointed I am.  I've had two trips cancelled, and even a local outing was stymied.

My planned pelagic out of Port Fairy was cancelled because of the weather, meaning I missed out not only on all the seabirds I'd hoped to see, but also the Hooded Plovers I always tick at Killarney Beach and the Rufous Bristlebirds along the way.   In fact I had a list of 35 species I hoped to see, and I felt cheated out of every one of them.
Some of the seabirds I missed out on

Then my planned trip to Broome for the vagrant Lesser Black-backed Gull was stymied when the bird flew away.  I thought I'd tick the Semi-palmated Plover and have another look for the Common Redshank while I was there.  When the gull left, somehow it didn't seem worth flying all the way to the other side of the continent to Carnarvon to admire one poor lost wigeon.

My run of back luck continued when I attempted to go birding at Tim Warren Tam Bore, an artificial wetland in Melbourne's Royal Park.  I'm usually the only car in the car park when I visit, but when I attempted to go there last week, the car park was quite full, taken over by tradies from a nearby building site.  All the local streets have residential parking only, so there was nowhere for me to go.

I have my fingers crossed for better results in April.  I'm off to Port Stephens (dreaming of a White-necked Petrel, which is turning into a real jinx bird for me) then I'll try (again) for the elusive Rufous Scrub-bird at Barrington Tops.  If some friendly local in Port Stephens is able to show me an Eastern Grass Owl, I'll be delighted.  So that means a possible three lifers in one trip.  But, with my recent run of bad luck, I daren't get my hopes up too high.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Cranbourne Royal Botanic Gardens

Melbourne has been suffering a record heat wave which has not been conducive to birding.  (Nine consecutive days over 30, and we thought we'd put summer behind us!).  When the forecast today was for a cool change, I grabbed the opportunity to visit Cranbourne Royal Botanic Gardens.  They're about 43 kilometres south-east of Melbourne and comprise 363 hectares, some formal plantings, most remnant bush.
Two thirds of the 'gardens' are untouched bush.
I usually judge the success of my visit to the Cranbourne Royal Botanic Gardens by the number of southern brown bandicoots I see.  They are quite common here.  This morning I didn't see any.  It was over an hour's hot drive to get here (what cool change?) and when I arrived a sign informed me that because it was a day of very high fire danger the Bushland and Stringybark Picnic Area were closed to the public.  Hrrmph!  Several signs warned that snakes share the paths.  I looked, but I didn't see any snakes either.

I trudged up to Trig Point, planning to take a photo of the view, which can be impressive.  Not today.  This morning all I could see was haze.  I was begining to think I should have stayed at home.  Then a Varied Sittella caught my eye and I knew the trip had been worthwhile.  I lost count of the number of Grey Fantails I saw.  They were playing together with both Striated and Spotted Pardalotes.  Bell Miners were calling, so I had to add them to my list.  It took a couple of minutes, but soon I was rewarded with good sightings.   I also saw Brown and Striated Thornbills.  Some other disappointed hikers asked me if I'd seen the Wedge-tailed Eagle's nest, but when I said no, they didn't volunteer where it was.

Because I was denied access to Bushland, I decided to explore the planted native gardens, an area I've never bothered with before.  It was delightful!  Lots of New Holland Honeyeaters in the banksias, while scrubwren, fairywren and Eastern Yellow Robins played around my feet.  And there were coots and grebes in the ghastly water feature in the middle.  A bronzewing flew over, but I failed to convince myself that it was a Brush.  Lots of Welcome Swallows warmed themselves on the red earth, called the 'Red Sand Garden.'

I returned to the car park and a Grey Butcherbird bade me farewell.  It was not an altogether successful morning, but I find it hard to complain when I've been treated to sittellas, and a yellow robin almost landed on my foot.

Friday, 8 March 2013

On Wednesday morning I debated whether to walk around Lake King before breakfast.  Why bother?  I'd been there yesterday and failed to see White-breasted Woodswallows.  It wouldn't be any different today.  The chance that something rare was out there waiting for me won in the end, as it always does, and I hurried out to see what I could see.  A woman was walking her dog along my usual route, so I chose to do the walk backwards.  Yesterday I had seen two Little Friarbirds.  This morning there were about a dozen of them, very vocal, making me wonder if it were a mixed flock with Noisy Friarbirds.  No such luck.  Every bird I looked at was a Little, even though they were all undeniably noisy.  As I was looking up, examining friarbirds, woodswallows flew overhead.  I focused on them.  Yes, they were White-breasted.  They often cluster in summer in the river red gums at the caravan park end of Lake King.  I had looked for them yesterday and figured that, as it was autumn, they had moved on.  But no, here they were today, as beautiful as ever.  Later I saw them clustering in a huge gum tree on an island in the lake.  I think I would have noticed them had they been there yesterday.  I also saw Tree Martins, so my decision to walk around the lake was well and truly vindicated.

Our first stop this morning was to be Bartley's Block in Chiltern.  I was packing the car in the motel car park when a raptor flew over, being harrassed by magpies.  I looked up.  A Whistling Kite, I thought but nevertheless, out of habit, raised my binoculars.  It was a Square-tailed Kite!  What a good start to the day.  At Bartley's Block, the first bird I saw when I got out of the car was a Turquoise Parrot.  He sat and let me admire him, then, with three companions he flew off.  'Ting! ting!' they said emphatically.  I saw several more Turquoise Parrots this morning, each breathtakingly beautiful.

Black-chinned Honeyeaters taunted me, calling once a fair way away, then not calling again.  I'd trudge through the bush, get to where I thought they had been and look for flowering gums.  It seemed to me that very little was flowering, just a few white box, and there weren't the usual number of honeyeaters.  White-plumed, Yellow-tufted and Fuscous was about it.  But there were Spotted Pardalotes, Crested Shrike-tits, Varied Sittellas, Brown Treecreepers and both Eastern Yellow and (lots of) Red-capped Robins.  Not satisfied with this, I continued to chase Black-chinned Honeyeaters.  I started at the old brewery site.  They led me over the road, then down to the dam and back to the brewery site.  At last, there were some overhead.  I drank them in.  When I couldn't hold my binoculars up another minute, I gave my arms and neck a rest, and stood there, feeling as if I'd achieved something very clever.  I'd seen Black-chinned Honeyeaters.  As I was busy congratulating myself, three Brown Quail flew past and landed in the thick grass a short distance away.  I look for Painted Button-quail around Chiltern, and have seen Stubble Quail here and in Rutherglen, but I don't think I've seen Brown Quail here before.

Chiltern Box-Ironbark National Park

Next we drove along McGuiness Road in Chiltern Box-Ironbark National Park, looking for Spotted Quail-thrush.  It was by now quite hot and the birds were very quiet.  We saw precisely nothing.  Next stop was the waterworks along Woolshed Road, where we always check out the waterbirds.  There was nothing special today, although a flock of European Goldfinches played in the acacias, which was a new bird for the year for me.  Then we did the Beechworth Forest Drive and ate our lunch by the dam.  After lunch we set off for Wodonga and the Wonga Wetlands.  These wetlands make it into my top 100 best Australian birding sites and they are always enjoyable, but often very hot.  Today they were as uncomfortably hot as ever, and worse, most of the wetlands had dried up, so there was not the usual complement of waterbirds.  The best sightings were a flock of Black-tailed Native-hens and 14 Royal Spoonbills, one of them sitting on his haunches.  I don't remember seeing that before.
Wonga Wetlands as they usually are - wet.

With 103 species under my belt, I thought I'd done okay, given the hot weather.  I came home happy, celebrating my Turquoise Parrots, White-breasted Woodswallows and that unexpected Square-tailed Kite.

Thursday, 7 March 2013


I've just returned from a most enjoyable few days in Rutherglen and Wodonga.  I saw 103 species of birds, which wasn't bad as the temperature was over 30 each day.  On Tuesday I saw 71 species, and on Wednesday 74.  Not bad for autumn.

Monday was basically a travelling day.  Delicious lunch at Fowles winery at Avenel, then a quick stop at Winton Wetlands, where the highlight was about forty Nankeen Night-Herons.

On Tuesday, in Rutherglen, I started the day with a walk around Lake King before breakfast.  I notched up 30 species, including Black-tailed Native-hen and Little Friarbirds.  Rog had read about Black Swamp on Birdline Victoria and we decided to explore it.  It is south of Rutherglen, off the Murray Valley Highway.  Sadly, it was quite dry.  There has been no rain in Rutherglen since November and everything is tinder dry.  But Black Swamp looked an interesting spot and we will certainly return.  We went back into town and visited the ephemeral swamp near the tip.  There is still a little water in it, but few birds now.  Then we drove to Chiltern, first stop No 2 dam.  This lovely spot never disappoints.  Today there was a large number of pelicans on the dam and a very vocal group of colourful Crested Shrike-tits in the gum trees.  I wandered around enjoying myself, thinking how benign it was and how pleasant.  I did have to watch where I was walking, bush bashing through the tall grass.  Then, suddenly, I was under attack.  I had bumped into a wasp's nest and they were not happy.  Nor was I!  The wasps swarmed around my head.  I ran faster than I would have thought possible, trying to wave the wasps away.  Rog sat in the car, happily reading his newspaper.  When I arrived back at the car, bird watching had momentarily lost its allure.  Miraculously, I had only one sting.  It could have been so much worse.

Black Swamp - worth a return visit
 Next stop was Chiltern No 1 dam.  My wasp experience was immediately forgottern as I admired Dusky Woodswallows.  The last few times I've visited Chiltern No 1 dam I've seen Diamond Firetails and I'd hoped to see them again today.  But it was not to be.  I heard a Peaceful Dove and decided to add it to the list.  It called constantly, but I did not seem to get any nearer.  Eventually I forded a dry creekbed (with difficulty) and was rewarded with a good look at a dear little dove.  I added nothing to my list at Lake Anderson (in Chiltern).  There's always good birding at Cyanide Dam in Honeyeater Picnic Area in the Chiltern National Park.  Today I saw gorgeous Spotted Pardalotes, Red-capped Robins, Leaden Flycatchers and Chestnut-rumped Thornbills, while Eastern Spinebills took a bath in the dam.  The Australiasian Grebes looked at though they'd had a second clutch.  I added nothing to my list at Frog Hollow, but did see Brown-headed Honeyeaters and a Sacred Kingfisher at Greenhill Dam.  We drove up Fishers Road looking for Grey-crowned Babblers, but were not lucky today.  We drove up Donchi Hill Road, and on to Lappins Dam.  I knew I'd see Peaceful Doves here (I usually do) because I'd gone to so much trouble to tick them at No 1 dam.  Sure enough, about a dozen Peaceful Doves sat on the road as we drove in.  Two black wallabies drinking at the dam were not worried by our presence.  One finished his drink, then hopped away slowly.  The other stayed to munch on some green grass on the bank.  Our last stop for the day was Lake Moodemere, where I always hope for White-backed Swallows.  Today I added nothing to the list.  Still, 71 species on a hot autumn day is perfectly acceptable.

To be continued.