Thursday, 6 June 2013


Just back from a couple of great days birding.  We stayed in Wodonga, and spent most of our time in Chiltern.  We left on Tuesday morning.  I had Brown Thornbills playing outside my bedroom window before we left, despite the grey winter weather.  I thought that was a good omen.  We drove to Nagambie to buy walnuts (the best!) then had lunch at our favourite spot: Fowles winery.  Then it was on to Winton Wetlands, which is one of my top 100 birdwatching sites.  We admired half a dozen male Flame Robins sitting on fence posts looking absolutely splendid, then quite a large flock of Zebra Finches and, finally, some beautiful Diamond Firetails.  They flew across the road in front of the car and I asked Rog to go back, so I could confirm their identification.  Most patiently, Rog complied, and we both enjoyed lovely views of the firetails sitting on the fence and on the roadside verge.
Diamond Firetail taken by Jim Smart

On Wednesday, our first stop was Chiltern Park.  This is a roadside stop on the freeway, just north of Chiltern.  It is actually part of the Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park, and the birding is always good.  Very soon, you don't notice the noise from the highway traffic close by.  Highlights this morning were several male Scarlet Robins and one darling female Speckled Warbler.  I was delighted to note that many of the ironbarks were flowering prolifically.  I could hope to see Regent Honeyeaters.  Next, we went into the Mt Pilot section of the national park and drove up and down McGuiness Road, hoping for Spotted Quail-thrush.  Sadly, not today.  Then we went to Bartley's Block, where Red Wattlebirds and Noisy Friarbirds predominated.  There were also Golden Whistlers, Eastern Spinebills and a Mistletoebird.  I had always thought that Mistletoebirds were migratory, arriving in Victoria when mistletoe fruits, breeding in summer, then returning north in autumn.  I was surprised to see a handsome male in June.  The only field guide I had with me was Simpson & Day, which classified them as 'sedentary?' so I was none the wiser.  Now I am home, I have checked my records, and they show that Mistletoebirds were always absent in winter from my parents' north-central Victoria home.  I don't think the north-central Victorian Mistletoebirds could be described as 'sedentary.'

Then we drove up Fishers Lane looking for Grey-crowned Babblers.  I had seen them recently in Alice Springs (on my Forest Wagtail twitch) and admired their rich rufous breasts.  The eastern race lacks this colourful breast.  I wanted to see this race and try to remember the difference.  But there were no babblers to be seen here today.

Then we drove into the national park again and saw a couple of cars and two people in the bush and three standing beside the road.  Natually I stopped to ask if they'd seen any Regent Honeyeaters.  Of course, they had.  I introduced myself to Dean Ingwersen from BirdLife Australia, in charge of the Regent Honeyeater recovery program.

Regent Honeyeater, photo thanks to Jim Smart

Dean was radio tracking Regent Honeyeaters that had been bred at Taronga Park Zoo and released in the park last April.  He said there were 14 birds hereabouts.  We saw four.  And extremely beautiful they were too.  No illustration ever seems able to do justice to these birds.  (Sorry, Jim!  It is a lovely photo!)  Although the ironbarks were flowering profusely, the honeyeaters were feeding on insects.  They landed on the trunks of the ironbarks (as if they were treecreepers or robins) and gleaned insects from the bark.  They were all wearing colour bands, but, although we were not far away, I could not identify the colours.  I could have spent hours with Dean, but, after we'd had great views, Rog said it was time to move on.

We visited Frog Hollow, Greenhill Dam, then Honeyeater Dam in Cyanide Road.  The honeyeaters were wonderful (at least seven species).  For a splash of yellow (as well as the Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters) there were Eastern Yellow Robins, Golden Whistlers and Crested Shrike-tits.  Brown and White-throated Treecreepers frolicked side by side.

We visited the other sites (No 1 and No 2 dam, the swamp near the Rutherglen tip and Black Swamp) but we saw nothing more of note.  It was, after all, very wintery.  The sky looked as if it were trying to rain, but couldn't quite make it.  We finished the day with 68 species, which is not too bad for winter.

On Thursday, we visited Wonga Wetlands before we turned homewards.  Yes, Wonga Wetlands is also one of my top 100 birdwatching sites.  I was hoping for egrets.  I needed both Little and Intermediate for my 2013 list.  But, although there was more water than on our previous visit, water levels were still quite low and there were not the water fowl numbers that I'd hoped for.  I saw Australasian Shovelers for the first time here.  Not a rare bird, but I hadn't seen them here before.  There are always Yellow Rosellas, and coots and swamphens and moorhens, but there were not as many passerines as usual today.

It was time to go home.  We had a respectable 94 species, which, I think, is not too bad for winter.

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