Thursday, 27 October 2016


I haven't had a lifer since that lovely Laughing Gull in Venus Bay in July.  I've had a few interesting sightings, I attended a Helmeted Honeyeater workshop in Yellingbo and I've just returned from a wonderful couple of days in Rutherglen.

My interesting sightings include a Little Button-quail in Kew on my morning walk!  I flushed it from some leaves on the footpath, and it walked into someone's front garden, never to be seen again.  Since my trip to Venus Bay, I have visited some nice birdy spots.  I've been to Werribee (highlights were Zebra Finch and Ruddy Turnstone), Mt St Joseph's Pond (too overgrown for crakes, did see greenfinch), Eastlink Wetlands (scrubwren, Silvereye, Red-browed Finch, but no waterbirds), Greensborough (Swift Parrots), Banyule (Powerful Owl), You Yangs (Speckled Warbler, Shining Bronze-Cuckoo, Sacred Kingfisher, Jacky Winter), Trin Warren Tam-boore (Australian Reed Warbler), Bunyip State Park (Golden Whistler, Grey Currawong), Healesville (Eastern Yellow Robin and Australian King-Parrot), and Cape Liptrap (Morepork).

The Helmeted Honeyeater workshop in Yellingbo was run by BirdLife Australia's Threatened Bird Network.  James Frazer from Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater gave us a talk on the bird's ecology, the recovery project and volunteer opportunities.  The Helmeted Honeyeater, Victoria's avifaunal emblem, is a race of the Yellow-tufted Honeyeater and is classified as critically endangered.  I was pleased to learn that James was very positive about the bird's future.  The wild population has increased from 60 to around 200 (plus another 38 in captivity).  Although the introduction of some honeyeaters to Bunyip State Park failed, James told us that they have now introduced supplementary feeding during the breeding season and believe this will significantly improve survival rates.  The failure in Bunyip was put down to the drought, which altered the habitat sufficiently to allow for easy predation.  The Helmeted Honeyeater's main problem is loss of habitat:  95% of its original habitat is now lost.  The Friends group runs a significant planting program, not assisted by three species of deer (sambah, fallow and hog).  Evidently eradicating deer is not as easy as you might think.  After James' talk, we did some token planting.  We had all hoped that we might see a Helmeted Honeyeater in the wild, but, as they are breeding at the moment, we were not permitted anywhere near them.  I thought the workshop was most informative.  Such activities can only help our endangered species.

I have just returned from a quick trip to Rutherglen to replenish our sherry supplies.  We drove up on Sunday.  It was grey, rainy and gloomy.  I thought I probably wouldn't see many birds.  However, Monday was delightful:  sunny and calm, perfect birding conditions.  I walked to the newsagents to buy Roger's newspaper and was surprised at the number of Eurasian Tree Sparrows.  Usually, I search among the House Sparrows, looking for one tree sparrow.  But on Monday things were reversed.  I saw two flocks of tree sparrows, and just one or two House Sparrows.  Common Blackbirds were also in big numbers around the town.

After breakfast, we visited Black Swamp, about 15 kilometres west of Rutherglen.  With all the recent rain, it was full of water and lots of ducks with ducklings.  The white cockies were extremely raucous and both mossies and bush flies were irritating.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the Sacred Kingfishers, Little Friarbirds and one vocal Grey Shrike-thrush.  Next, we drove to the swamp near the tip in town, which I'm told is known as Bryce's Swamp.  There was too much water, no muddy banks and no birds at all, so we continued on to Cyanide Dam.  Here the sun shone.  There were no mossies and no bush flies.  Just orioles and gerygones singing their hearts out.  As always, there were Brown Treecreepers, yellow robins and Fuscous Honeyeaters.  It was perfect.

However, I had an appointment to go birding with my mate Jim, so we headed back to town.  Jim took me to watch Rainbow Bee-eaters digging their nest holes.  They were gorgeous in the sunshine.  Progress on their nest holes was surprisingly fast, extending three or four inches in the twenty minutes or so we sat watching.  It seemed to me that the females did all the work.  Situation normal.
Greenhill Dam
Rainbow Bee-eater by Jim O'Toole

Then we visited Bartley's Block (Rufous Songlark, Weebill), Greenhill Dam (Whistling Kite), Magenta Mine, then on to Chiltern No 2 dam.  Some stupid or selfish people (or perhaps both) had left the windows on the bird hide open, and the Welcome Swallows were exploring inside the hide for nesting opportunities.  The best bird we saw here was a cooperative Crested Shriketit.  
Crested Shriketit by Jim O'Toole
He played in the foliage at eye height, giving us great views.  Then, Jim took me to the Rutherglen Wildlife Reserve, where we saw more kangaroos than birds.  Vocal Rufous Whistlers were a highlight of the day, singing loudly at just about every stop.

Chiltern No 2 dam

I was sorry I didn't have a week to spend at Rutherglen.  Conditions are perfect at the moment.  But I must prepare for my trip to Ashmore Reef next week.  Let's hope that conditions are perfect there too.