Friday, 30 August 2013


Grey Butcherbird by Jim Smart
A Grey Butcherbird serenaded me as I got into my car at home to drive to Banyule Flats Reserve, and another one greeted me as I arrived in the Banyule car park.  Banyule is (I believe) Melbourne's best birding spot - yes, it is in Australia's top 100 sites.  In fact it is in the top 20.  I was surprised when I checked my records to note that I hadn't been to Banyule since January.  An oversight I really should rectify, and what an appropriate way to say farewell to winter.

The first thing I noticed at Banyule was the large amount of wind damage.  Many trees were down, some of them quite large.  (If I'd thought about it, I should have expected this, as we lost our side fence in the ferocious wind recently.)  There was also lots of water.  Too much water, perhaps.  I like to see muddy banks for birds to probe, but today all the banks were submerged.

My first stop (as always) was the lake, where a sign rather optimistically features a bittern.  Here I've seen all three crakes, Buff-banded Rail and Latham's Snipe.  But not today.  (And never a bittern.  But, to be fair, who knows what lurks amongst the reeds and bullrushes.)  Today I had to make do with teal, swan, coots, one lonely Silver Gull and dozens and dozens of Welcome Swallows.  Swallows were hawking over the water and perching on every available post.  I didn't attempt to count them.  Lets just say there were lots.  Amongst them I saw just one Fairy Martin, a vanguard for the summer horde to follow.

Usually, my next port of call is the grotty pond, where a female Australian Painted Snipe turned up in 2001, delighting all Melbourne birders.  However, a large, chatty group of walkers was on that path, so I turned towards the river instead.

Here I was greeted by the glorious song of a gorgeous male Golden Whistler.  He sat on a leafless branch and put his heart and soul into his song.  He was without doubt the bird of the day, and he alone made the drive to Banyule worthwhile.  In less than an hour, I clocked up 32 species, including four new ones for August.  At the end of the month, four new birds is good, but considering that I'd been birding in Queensland and Chiltern this month, I was pleased to add four species to my monthly list.  They were White-browed Scrubwren (extraordinary that I hadn't yet seen this common little fellow in my travels), Common Bronzewing (which, as usual lived up to its name at Banyule), a very vocal and very pretty Eastern Spinebill and the aforementioned Golden Whistler.

Banyule is always worth a visit.  I really shouldn't leave it another seven months before I go again.

Saturday, 24 August 2013


Black Swan
Recently I visited the Lilydale Lake, for the second time this year.  Lilydale Lake is not one of Melbourne's best birding spots (it didn't make it into my top 100 sites) but it happens to be conveniently close to the nursing home where my mother resides, so I can pop in easily on my way. On this occasion, it was a cold grey winter day, constantly threatening rain.  I was there for little over half an hour, yet I managed to clock up 25 species, which isn't too bad in the circumstances.  Even better, I managed a couple of new ones for the month, which, given that I'd been birding in Queensland and Chiltern, was an added bonus.  The new birds for August were Long-billed Corella and Chestnut Teal.  A large flock of corellas flew over my head calling, then landed, decorating a tree on the other side of the lake.  Chestnut Teals are so common in Melbourne that we tend to forget (or at least I do) that they are not so common up north.

Otherwise, my bird list contained pretty much what you'd expect.  I did see an Eastern Great Egret in the creek, and just one Australasian Darter on one of the ponds.  As usual, the car park was full of Noisy Miners, with an occasional Red Wattlebird and White-plumed Honeyeater.

Lilydale Lake is always well patronised:  a popular place for picnics.  Even when it's raining there's someone in the car park.  However, it's still worth a quick visit from time to time.  I saw crakes and dotterels here last summer.  And with all that water, and all those reeds, something really interesting could always turn up.  We are lucky in Melbourne to have so many local parks to visit.

Thursday, 15 August 2013


I've just enjoyed a quick trip to north-east Victoria.  I visited Chiltern, Rutherglen and Wonga Wetlands in New South Wales.  The interesting thing was that I saw more birds around north-eastern Victoria than I did on my recent trip to the Queensland gulf country.  Yes, I know, north-west Queensland is in drought, and north-east Victoria has had recent good rains.  But, I was on my own in Victoria, whereas in Queensland I was with six serious birders all trying to clock up as many species as possible.  By myself, I saw as many species in one day as we did on our best day in the gulf country:  59.  In Queensland, we averaged 42 species per day.

On Tuesday, we had lunch at Fowles winery (my favourite restaurant) and I did a bit of birding in the vineyard while Roger paid the bill.  In these few minutes, I enjoyed some of the best birding I've had in a long time.  I saw both male and female Flame and Scarlet Robins, Red-rumped Parrots, Yellow-rumped Thornbills, colourful if exotic Goldfinches and, best of all, Southern Whiteface.  The bird I saw had a feather in his beak, leading me to conclude that he was nesting.  Alas, I could not find his nest.

We had a look at Black Swamp, but there is so much water around generally that the birds have plenty of options, and there was nothing special here.  Then it was on to Rutherglen, where I had hopes for the ephemeral swamp.  There was a fair bit of water here, but not quite enough.  The small hillocks that form islands when the swamp fills, were still accessible by land, so I did not expect to see any crakes.  I've seen good birds here (Turquoise Parrot, White-breasted Woodswallow, Rufous Songlark in summer) but not today.

We always have a look at Ironbark roadside stop.  Yes, I have seen a Regent Honeyeater here - once.  Some of the ironbarks were flowering, but not profusely and there were few birds today.

Wednesday started with bright sunshine and a beautiful blue sky.  We started at Wonga Wetlands.  Last time I was here, there was little water and few birds.  Today, there was a great deal of water and few birds!  Conditions were perfect as I walked around hopefully.  The only bird I saw that I haven't seen here before (this is going from memory, I must check my records) was a Musk Duck.

Wonga Wetlands

When people talk about good birding spots in Chiltern, they will mention Bartley's Block, Cyanide Dam, Greenhill Dam and Number 2 Dam.  (Incidentally, No 2 Dam was locked on Wednesday.  I've not seen that before.)  I don't often hear mention of Chiltern Park, one of my favourite Chiltern birding spots.  This is a roadside stop, north of Chiltern, accessed as you are driving south on the highway.  The sign says that the walk takes 15 minutes.  The birds are always good (at least, they've always been good when I've been there) and I've never done the walk in less than half an hour.  On this occasion, the canopy was dominated by Fuscous Honeyeaters and Red Wattlebirds, and male and female Scarlet Robins took over at eye level.  There were also Striated Thornbills and at least one White-naped Honeyeater.

We have our usual Chiltern routine, but there are some spots we don't often visit.  One such place is Yeddonba.  We went there once, years ago, and it was so hot that we were not encouraged to go back.  It is part of the Chiltern Box-Ironbark National Park.  'Yeddonba' means black cypress pine in the local Aboriginal language and this place has special significance for the Aborigines.  On this occasion, we decided to take a look and I did the walk.  The views were great, but the only birds I saw were Grey Fantails and Brown Thornbills, which did not (in my mind) justify the steep and slippery track.  However, I was pleased I went.  There are some Aboriginal rock paintings which were worth a look.  What was of special interest was a painting of what I believe can only be a thylacine.  As these animals became exinct on the mainland some 2,000 years ago, we are left to assume that the painting is at least that old.

Monday, 12 August 2013


Radjah Shelducks at Karumba Point
 From Adels Grove, we drove to Karumba Point, stopping for lunch at the Burke and Wills Roadhouse, where Apostlebirds providee free amusement for all visitors.  This day we saw our first Emu, our first Brown Falcon and our first Nankeen Kestrel for the trip.  My memory is that we didn't see any more Emus at all, only a couple of Brown Falcons, but we ticked up 14 Nankeen Kestrels today.  Sadly, there were also 4 feral cats.  We found a productive dam beside the road at Normanton where the birding was quite good.  Diamond Doves sat innocently on the ground.  There were waders and ducks on the water, and one fat feral cat that I chased away.

In the mangroves at Karumba Point, we saw magnificent White-breasted Whistlers, Mangrove Gerygones and Mangrove Fantails.  Just to confuse us, there were Grey Fantails here as well.  Out of the mangroves, we saw Yellow White-eyes and Yellow Honeyeaters, both looking very colourful in a large tree with bright orange flowers.  On the beach a flock of Radjah Shelducks was loafing, ignoring the silly birders covered in insect repellent.  I should say, that, despite our diligent preparations, the sand flies were a total non-event.

We saw many Red-backed Kingfishers on the trip and Marsh Sandpipers more than once.  Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos put in several appearances and we saw Zebra Finches and Double-barred Finches frequently.  We saw just one Black-breasted Buzzard, which flew over most uncooperatively when we were travelling, so not everyone had good views.

At Walker's Creek, on the drive from Karumba Point to Cloncurry, we saw a Leaden and a Lemon-bellied Flycatcher.  This was a very pretty spot, well worth a few minutes of our time. 

The Curry Muster was on at Cloncurry and we were treated to a parade up the main street.  I did not witness the entire parade:  all I saw were men standing on the back of trucks with black and white balloons.  Perhaps I missed the essence of the event.

The next day we were up early to travel to the Selwyn Range to admire Rufous-crowned Emu-wrens.  I'd seen these darling little birds before, both in Queensland and in South Australia, but I don't think I've ever had such good views.  I noticed a greyish nape on the male not shown in the illustration in Simpson & Day's field guide.  And the female's eye coverts appeared (to me) to be black and white, whereas conventional wisdom is that they are blue and white.  Here we also had great views of Red-browed Pardalotes.

The next morning we visited Corella Dam, which was not at all as I remembered it.  A decade before, it had been unoccupied and attractive.  When we visited, there were so many campers, it was difficult to find a spot to look for waterbirds without feeling you were intruding into someone's private space.  Then it was on to Clem Walton Park, again a disappointment to me.  The water was reduced to a few large puddles, not at all the picturesque scene I remembered.  We saw a Spotted Bowerbird and the inevitable feral cat.  We had a picnic lunch at Fountain Springs, which I would recommend highly.  A pretty spot, no campers.

Back in Mt Isa, we searched again (and again) for Carpentarian Grasswren.  We did add Cloncurry Parrot to our birdlist - they were nowhere near as common as I remember them a decade ago.

I cannot count the trip a failure, as I achieved the one and only lifer I was after.  Accordingly, I should call the trip a 100% success.  However, the land was so dry, so many rivers and creeks were not flowing, the birds were so few and far between, I found the experience disappointing.

Sunday, 11 August 2013


On the way to Lawn Hill we stopped at the Gregory River to admire Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens, and then at Riversleigh to learn about the fascinating fossils found there.

I was delighted by how many Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens we saw.  They were easily seen in several locations.  But it is the western race (coronatus) that is endangered.  The birds at Lawn Hill belong to the eastern race (macgillivrayi) and it is estimated that there are 10,000 of them.

We saw several Buff-sided Robins too and, after a bit of work, we saw more than one Sandstone Shrike-thrush.  Several Channel-billed Cuckoos flew over, but I did not see one perched as I'd hoped.  Channel-billed Cuckoos are resident at Lawn Hill all year round.  The Sydney-siders on the trip were most amused at my desire to get a good look at this odd bird with the bizarre beak and curious call.  They regard it as irritatingly common with a most annoying call.

Lawn Hill National Park

I found the climb to the lookout at Lawn Hill quite strenuous, but the views were worth it.  Indeed, Lawn Hill was altogether a little bit of paradise, with very pretty scenery.

After Lawn Hill, we travelled to Karumba Point, via the Burke and Wills Roadhouse.  More later.

We were all disappointed that we dipped on Northern Rosellas.

Saturday, 10 August 2013


Habitat of Kalkadoon Grasswren
I have just returned from a very disappointing trip to a very dry Gulf of Carpentaria.  The highlight for me was the Kalkadoon Grasswren, my one and only lifer for the trip.  The lowlight was the fact that we saw 11 feral cats.

I was on a Kirrama Wildlife Tour with Klaus Uhlenhut and five great birders who were also great company.  How lucky was that!

We started our tour in Mt Isa, visited Lawn Hill National Park, Karumba and Cloncurry before returning to Mt Isa.  I saw 155 bird species.  The official trip count was 160.  I dipped on Carpentarian Grasswren, Black-chinned (aka Golden-backed) Honeyeater, Crested Bellbird and Spinifexbird.  Luckily, I'd seen them all before.

We saw the Kalkadoon Grasswren on the first morning of the first day, as I'd expected and hoped.  This is one of the easier seen grasswren.  There are several well-known sites around Mt Isa.  We started at Pamela Street, between the water tanks.  (This is where I took the photo above.)  We saw lots of Rainbow Bee-eaters - always a thrill.  Also Peaceful Doves, Grey-headed and (my old friends) White-plumed Honeyeaters and a Pied Butcherbird.  Variegated Fairy-wrens made our hearts jump momentarily, but, try as we might, we could not convert them to grasswrens.

Next we visited Warrigal Waterhole Road, where (as elsewhere) much of the spinifex had been burnt.  We found an unburnt patch and, very quickly, had our Kalkadoon Grasswren.  The male sat up on a rock and gave us all very good looks.  Mission accomplished!

In Mt Isa we visited the sewage works and Lake Moondarra, where we saw all the usual suspects, and others saw the Spinifexbird.  I did not.

We spent a fair amount of time looking for Carpentarian Grasswren.  First we visited the famous McNamara Road site.  This used to be called Lady Loretta Mine Road, but for some reason, birders now call it McNamara Road.  There is a cairn beside the turnoff to show where the grasswren are often seen.  It has been rebuilt since I was there ten years ago with Phil Maher.

Me at the famous McNamara Road cairn.

One of our group glimpsed a grasswren hopping across the dry creekbed.  Well done, Chris!  It was not in spinifex, but hopping between clumps of grass.  None of the rest of us was lucky enough to see it.  I was silently delighted that I'd seen the bird a decade ago.  I'd thought it was difficult then, but it seems it is at least as difficult now.  We looked in other places too, wherever the spinifex seemed appropriate.  We had no luck.

From Mt Isa, we travelled to Lawn Hill, a very pretty place which I will tell you about next time.