Tuesday, 31 December 2013


Blue-billed Duck

I decided to start my year at Karkarook Park, hoping to see a Blue-billed Duck.  I arrived at 8.30 a.m. and at 8.35 I had my beautiful Blue-billed Duck.  2014 is looking good!

Karkarook Park is in Warrigal Road in suburban Heatherton.  Melbourne birders know it because in August 2011 an Australian Little Bittern turned up here.  Otherwise, it is famous for Blue-billed Duck.  I tried very hard to fit Karkarook Park into my Best 100 Birdwatching Sites in Australia, but alas, I could not.  It is, after all, just a suburban park.  It is part of Melbourne Water's water purification system.  Formerly a sand mine, the park opened in 2004 and caters for everyone.  There is a 15 hectare lake, and fishing, canoeing, kayaking and sailing are all encouraged.  There are six kilometres of shared pathways.

This morning was very grey and it rained half-heartedly the whole time I was here.  I arrived at 8.30 and left at 9.40 and managed to clock up 34 species in the rain, not counting the Little Grassbird that called from a distance then most frustratingly stopped calling when I approached him, or the Grey Butcherbird that called from the car park when I was on the other side of the footbridge.

Karkarook is always good for Common Greenfinch and in summer, Australian Reed-Warblers call constantly.  I have seen Latham's Snipe, Buff-banded Rail and Australian Spotted Crake here, but not today.  Today I saw the usual waterbirds (but just one cormorant, the Little Black) including a beautiful Hoary-headed Grebe.  Of course there are Willie Wagtails, greenies and Red-browed Finches.  I saw Galahs and Little Corellas, which are becoming more and more common around Melbourne.

Altogether, what I'd call a good start to the year.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013


Avocets at Werribee, You Yangs in the background

Rog and I decided to spend Christmas Day at the Werribee Sewage Farm.  The weather was warm, there were no crowds, the birds were prolific:  a perfect Christmas Day!

We arrived at 9.30, and left at 2.00, having seen 71 species.  The highlight was probably a Cox's Sandpiper, which was in T Section Lagoon Pond 4, along with some Sharp-tailed Sandpipers.

We saw some Dusky Woodswallows as we drove down Pt Wilson Road to the Murtcaim Wildlife Area, hoping for Brolga.  This area was very dry and there was no hint of Brolga.  Next stop was the T Section Lagoons, where we admired Baillon's and Australian Spotted Crakes walking happily amongst the reeds.  There are always Australasian Grebes around here, and today there were thousands of Whiskered Terns.  Of course we saw and heard Golden-headed Cisticolas and saw hundreds of Australian Shelducks.  In fact we had ten species of ducks during the day.  Just one pair of Cape Barren Geese stood at the water's edge, not doing anything much, as sandpipers and stints played on the mud.

From T Section Lagoons, we drove to Western Lagoons, hoping for a Lewin's Rail, which had been seen here with some cute black fluffy chicks a fortnight ago.  We dipped on the rail, but we saw a Curlew Sandpiper in full breeding beauty, which was some compensation.  There were thousands of waders here, mainly Red-necked Stints, but also plenty of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and a few very handsome Red-kneed Dotterels as well as a small covey of Common Greenshanks.  A couple of Black-winged Stilts stood with the greenshanks, the stilts' bright pink legs confused with the greenshanks dull green legs, making me reach for my binoculars to confirm that I didn't have a redshank amongst the throng.  Of course it would have been too good to be true.

We saw three other cars during the course of the day.  We said 'Merry Christmas' to a couple at the Western Lagoons, and they said that they'd flushed a Brolga by the gate.  It had flown back to the T Section.  So, as we left the Western Lagoons, we scanned the T Section and sure enough, two regal Brolga stood beside our lazy Cape Barren Geese.

Then we drove down Beach Road to the boat ramp, adding a few cormorants to our growing list.  We decided against the rough road to Kirk Point, knowing that we were foregoing the possibility of Pacific Golden Plover.  Instead we drove along the coast road and down to the bird hide.  Everywhere we looked there were hundreds of waders.

There were several Great Crested Grebe in the river as we drove to Paradise Road, but there was little to see at Paradise.  In fact, I don't remember ever seeing so few birds there.  Then it was on to the Borrow Pits for a bottle of bubbly and lunch.  We were surprised and delighted to see that a couple of seats had been installed for our comfort.

We ate our sandwiches watching terns, dotterels, avocets and stilts, while Silvereyes sang from above.  Did anyone ever have a better Christmas feast than this?

Friday, 20 December 2013


Black Swan
Yesterday I spent a pleasant hour wandering around Melbourne's Botanic Gardens.  It was warm and sunny with just a slight breeze.  If I were forced to find a complaint, it was that it was too popular.  There were too many people enjoying what I wanted to enjoy!

I used to visit the gardens to add Song Thrush and Nankeen Night-Heron to my list, but it has been many years now since I've seen a Song Thrush in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens.  Nor did I see a night-heron yesterday.  One bird that is guaranteed today is the Bell Miner.  I saw plenty of them.  And, as on last Monday when I visited the Melbourne General Cemetery, the most numerous bird was the Red Wattlebird. 

I heard, but could not see, the Eastern Koel.  Until recently, koels were not regarded as Victorian birds at all.  In his authoritative Handlist of the Birds of Victoria published in 1967, Roy Wheeler classifies the koel as an accidental summer migrant and records just one record, from Mallacoota in January 1917.  Then, ninety years later, in January 2007, one turned up in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens.  He liked it so much that he now takes his summer break there each year.  Yesterday, he called from the top of a conifer.  I hurried up the hill and, as soon as I reached the tree, he stopped calling.  He had fun with me a few other times during the morning, but always remained hidden.

My birdlist was surprisingly small.  I was missing all the little birds.  I don't know how I missed the Grey Fantail that serenaded me loudly, but simply would not show himself.  I also heard, but did not see, Brown Thornbills, Superb Fairy-wrens, White-browed Scrubwrens and an Eastern Spinebill.  No wonder my list was small!

I always hope for crakes in the gardens, but am rarely gratified.  I did not see any yesterday.  I saw all the usual suspects, the common waterbirds, blackbirds, currawongs, Little Ravens, and again, my favourite, the Willie Wagtail.

It is great to see the people of Melbourne enjoying their botanic gardens.  Perhaps if I allow a little more time on my next visit, I might see that pesky koel.  And I'll never give up on the Song Thrush.

Monday, 16 December 2013


Australian Magpie
Yesterday I visited the Melbourne General Cemetery for a spot of birding.  This is not one of Melbourne's top birding spots - no, it does not make it into my best 100 sites - but it suits me to go there.  It is an interesting place to walk around, lots of historic headstones to admire if the birds don't perform, and I have seen some good birds there.  For example, I've seen Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos, Tawny Frogmouths and a Little Eagle.  I wasn't quite that lucky yesterday.

The first bird to greet me as I entered the gate was a Red Wattlebird.  'Kwok!' he asserted and I agreed.  Wattlebirds were the dominant bird of the morning, mainly red ones, but also Little.  I suspect that Little Wattlebirds are extending their range.  I lived in this vicinity for twenty years and they were not commonly seen then.  Today they are easily observed.

The next most common bird was the Little Raven.  Flocks flew overhead, cawing.  They played in the cyprus trees and on the ground.  I lost count of how many I'd seen.  I tried to check out each bird to ensure that they were all Little Ravens, and no Australian Ravens had crept into their ranks.

Then, came magpies.  Two families had full size young begging constantly.  There were also a couple of free flying, apparently unattached males, soaring overhead, calling occasionally to make sure I noticed them.

I did not see anything particularly startling yesterday.  However, I saw my favourite bird (Willie Wagtail) so I was happy.  I always see Yellow-rumped Thornbills, Rainbow Lorikeets and Welcome Swallows and I usually see Galahs, Crested Pigeons and New Holland Honeyeaters.  Yesterday I was surprised to miss out on Superb Fairy-wrens, White-plumed Honeyeaters and Silvereyes.  I managed 18 species in about 45 minutes, which is okay for a site without water so close to the city.  Anyway, I was happy.  I'm always satisfied if I see a Willie Wagtail.

Sunday, 8 December 2013


On Saturday I went to the You Yangs to pull out boneseed.  The weather was perfect, the company was convivial and the birds were wonderful, as usual.  The You Yangs Regional Park is number 31 on my Best 100 Birdwatching Sites in Australia, and the birding is great.  We go to the You Yangs once a quarter, so birders have usually done some interesting trips between visits, and I enjoy the birdy gossip as much as the birds.

Boneseed is an invasive weed from South Africa and these outings are arranged by BirdLife Australia to keep our allocated patch boneseed free.

The You Yangs Regional Park is 55 kilometres south-west of Melbourne off the Geelong Road via the township of Little River.  It is dry eucalypt woodland, with several small dams, so the birdlist features bush birds and waterbirds.

We start the day birding around the car park, then go to Gravel Pit Tor.  We have lunch at a picnic table beside a small waterhole, then do some more birding around that site.  In the early afternoon we pull out some boneseed, then finish the day with more birding at East Flat.  It's obvious that the weeding is just an excuse for our primary activity:  birding.

The You Yangs are famous for Tawny Frogmouths and, in autumn and winter, Swift Parrots.  We didn't see any frogmouths on Saturday.  The resident pair, usually seen around the park office, have not been seen for some weeks.  I expect they'll return one day.  I hope it's in time for our next excursion in March 2014.

The birdlist for the day is usually quite impressive.  My personal list is always much smaller.  I thought the best birds on Saturday were the Brown-headed and Black-chinned Honeyeaters together with (most unusually, just one) Varied Sittella.  A pair of Scarlet Robins provided much pleasure and Rufous Whistlers entertained us all day.  While I was boneseeding, I was serenaded by Yellow Robins, Olive-backed Orioles and Fantailed Cuckoos.  It was difficult not to knock off work and look at the birds, but I always leave my binoculars in the car when we set to work, to lessen the temptation.

Raptors can be quite good at the You Yangs, but the only one I identified with confidence on Saturday was a wedgie.  He soared over us while we were having lunch, reminding us it was time to stop feeding our faces and go birding.

Anyone is welcome to join us at the You Yangs on the first Saturday of March, June, September and December.  All you need to bring is lunch, binoculars and enthusiasm!