Wednesday, 21 October 2015


I thought I'd got all my ticks for the year.  Unless some vagrant appeared unexpectedly, I didn't think 2015 had any more new birds for me.  Then some wonderful birder discovered Moreporks at Cape Liptrap (# 764).  Howzat!

Morepork, photo by Geoff Glare

Southern Boobooks are found throughout Australia, and of course, I'd seen many.  But I hadn't seen any in Tasmania and the Tasmanian race had recently been split from the mainland subspecies, and now we potentially had a new bird to add to our lifelist:  the Morepork.

I was at home studying dutifully (exams next week) when James Mustafa phoned to say he was planning to drive to Cape Liptrap to see the Moreporks.  I confess I did not have to think very long or very hard.  Of course I could take the night off.  I'd study all the better with a tick under my belt, I told myself.  A little bit of birding could only enhance my studies.  A new lifer would give me a boost:  my memory would be improved, my comprehension would increase, I would wing confidently to my exams.

So we set off.  James, his delightful girlfriend Clancye, and me.

Traffic was dreadful.  The two and a half hour trip from Melbourne to Cape Liptrap took more like four hours.  It didn't matter.  The sun had not set as we arrived in the Cape Liptrap lighthouse carpark.  Luckily, the temperature was not very cold, there was no wind and there was no sign of rain.  But my heart fell as I looked around.  We were in the right place, but there were no trees.  For me, owls and trees go together, like, well, studying and books.  It was all coastal scrub.  And to prove it, we heard a whipbird call.  James had photos taken a couple of days before of Moreporks in this spot.  It had to be right.  We wandered along the path to the lighthouse, trying to match the photos to the surroundings.

At the lighthouse, we met Geoff Glare and his charming wife, Anne, aka 'The Whale Woman.'  They'd been whale watching and, like us, had come to admire the Moreporks.  Of course it was the right spot.  We found a stunted tree that matched one photo perfectly.  Another photo was of an owl on the ground, and another bird was sitting on a post.  There were certainly lots of posts.  We chatted politely, trying to pretend that it didn't really matter whether or not we saw the Morepork.  Slowly, the sun set over the sea.

At 8.20 we decided to walk towards the lighthouse.  James saw a bird, then another.  It landed and we ran to position our torches and get a good look.  Yes, it was a Morepork, right on cue.   It was 8.25.  It did not seem to be in the least concerned by our presence.  It had the yellowest eyes!  It sat, ignoring us, occasionally gracing us with a direct stare and a frown.  We all had great tickable views.  Then it was off.

Quite happy with my single sighting (happy! I was ecstatic!) I did not need more.  We walked slowly back up the path.  Suddenly, there was another owl, much darker this time, but extremely pale underneath when he flew.  (I say 'he' but I have no idea what sex it was.  I believe it was a juvenile bird because it was so pale underneath.)  Again, we all enjoyed wonderful views.  The bird sat, obligingly, letting us admire him at length.

Finally, he flew.

Again, we walked towards the car and home.  Again, we were distracted by a Morepork.  A third bird, and for the third time, we all drank him in.  Geoff was distracted by a frog, but I'm afraid I cared only about owls at that moment.  We'd seen three birds in just a half an hour.

We were a very fulfilled, cheerful bunch.  The long drive home did not seem so long.  I did not give my exams a moment's thought.  I went home to dream about yellow-eyed Moreporks.

Saturday, 10 October 2015


For many years, I have wanted to eradicate exotic pests from Australia.  Now I find myself yearning to cull a native species.

Unwanted, unwelcome and unloved:  how do we eradicate them?

Noisy Miners have taken over some suburbs of Melbourne and turned previously enjoyable spots into miner monocultures.  When I moved to Kew 20 years ago, we enjoyed White-plumed Honeyeaters.  I have seen Eastern Spinebills in my street.  No more.  Now we must make do with miners.

Recently I visited the Maranoa Gardens in Balwyn, a suburb some 15 kilometres east of central Melbourne.  I have happy memories of visiting these municipal native gardens with my late grandfather and my late parents.  The birding used to be good.  I remember many Suberb Fairy-wrens and Silvereyes.  I remember New Holland Honeyeaters, Eastern Spinebills and Little Wattlebirds.  If you visit today, you'll see plenty of Noisy Miners, but not much else.

I visited several times during September and October 2015 and recorded Pied Currawongs, Australian Magpies, Eastern Rosellas, Rainbow Lorikeets, one Red Wattlebird, a couple of Crested Pigeons, one Grey Butcherbird and Little Ravens.  No small birds at all.  But there were dozens of Noisy Miners.  I reckoned there were about 50 of these despotic creatures in the 1.4 hectare gardens.  That is far too many.

The gardens are lovely, with many flowering native plants.  Noisy Miners, although they are honeyeaters, prefer to eat insects.  They do take nectar, but half-heartedly, and don't feed from many of the flowering plants in the Maranoa Gardens.  Small honeyeaters that in the past would have enjoyed this nectar, are now driven from the gardens by Noisy Miners.  The miners don't need the resource, but won't allow anyone else to use it either.  They are selfish bullies.  They are getting more and more self-assured and aggressive.  They often bomb me as I walk down the street and I see young mothers with prams looking anxiously over their shoulders as they approach the local park.  I suspect that it is a matter of time before residents rebel and take matters into their own hands.  We should agree to cull these unwelcome creatures, plant lots of dense native undergrowth and hope we can see some of our small native birds return.