Wednesday, 3 May 2017

ONE MAY DAY AROUND RUTHERGLEN

Since my three lifers in January, birding has been quiet.  My mate, Philip Jackson and I spent a day at Werribee in March (well, half a day to be correct) and came away very pleased with a score of 83 species, or 84 if you count the scrubwren Philip saw that I didn't.  Or, 85 if you count the four Australian Pratincole we both reckoned we saw flying off into the distance never to be viewed through the scope.
Philip at Point Addis

April was disappointing.  Philip and I visited Point Addis, hoping for Rufous Bristlebird.  Philip saw one; I didn't.  Then,at the last moment, I rushed up to Southport to do a pelagic, hoping for a White-necked Petrel.  This was my fourteenth attempt to see this bird.  We saw a Tahiti Petrel and a Lesser Frigatebird, but nothing even vaguely resembled a White-necked Petrel.  So much for April.  And so much for White-necked Petrels.

I spent Tuesday 2 May birding around Rutherglen, and in that one day, saw more birds than I had for the whole of April.  I usually start my day at Rutherglen with a walk around Lake King before breakfast.  This is the lake adjacent to the caravan park.  In summer, I usually see White-breasted Woodswallows and reed warblers here.  I can look for Black-fronted Dotterels and Blue-faced Honeyeaters at any time.  So on Tuesday, I set off optimistically.  About the first bird I saw was a Eurasian Tree Sparrow, then a large, noisy flock of Pied Currawongs and far too many Common Starlings.  At the golf course, I turned towards the lake.  Four magpies on the ground gave me the evil eye, but they were on the ground.  Magpies on the ground never do any harm, I thought.  Anyway, it was only May.  Magpies don't swoop in May.  I ignored them.  But not for long.  The four of them flew up, took aim, and swooped at me!  For a second I stood in disbelief.  Then I ran.  One magpie meant it, the others were merely going through the motions.  I hot tailed it back to my motel and forgot about Lake King.  Not a good start to the day.

After breakfast, Roger drove me to Chiltern No 2 dam.  We stopped first at the ephemeral water near the Rutherglen tip.  I've seen good birds here over the years:  both sorts of snipe, several crakes and Turquoise Parrots.  Near here, people have reported Red-backed Kingfishers, but I've never seen them in Rutherglen.  This morning there were about a hundred Straw-necked Ibis, and about twenty Yellow-billed Spoonbills.  A couple of cantankerous Whistling Kites were fighting above, and a few teal, cormorants, and Australasian Grebes were mucking about in the water.  On the bank, some bored looking Maned Duck (we used to call Australian Wood Duck) loafed, with one Pink-eared Duck.  

My bird count was 30 before we arrived at No 2 dam.  It was cold but fine, so I elected to walk to the bird hide.  I was accompanied by several vocal Willie Wagtails and a couple of Restless Flycatchers.  There was a large group of Masked Lapwing standing around doing nothing, but I could see no ducks and no cormorants.  Not even a Whistling Kite, usually guaranteed here.

Then we drove to No 1 dam, where we watched Black-fronted Dotterels and Yellow-billed Spoonbills.  I often see Diamond Firetails here, but not today.  As we left, I looked for a Pied Butcherbird on the electricity wires, but all I saw was a kookaburra.

On Lake Anderson in Chiltern, a Great Egret put on a most elegant flying display for us.

We drove on to Cyanide Dam at Honeyeater Picnic Area in the Chiltern/Mt Pilot National Park.  Red Wattlebirds dominated the landscape.  I walked around the dam, admiring ubiquitous Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters and a pair of gorgeous Crested Shrike-tits.  Back at the carpark, I made coffee and hoped that Brown Treecreepers would appear.  They are usually very common in this carpark, but I'd missed them on my last visit in January, and as this species is one of the woodlands species classified as near threatened, I didn't like to think it was missing from one of its favourite haunts.  I could hear treecreepers, but I could not see them.

As soon as I had a cup of coffee in my hand (with nowhere available to put it down quickly) it all happened at once.  A pair of Scarlet Robins appeared.  I put my coffee on the ground, only spilling a little.  As I raised my binoculars to admire the Scarlet Robins, an Eastern Yellow Robin was visible behind them, and, in the same instant a treecreeper crept up the very same trunk occupied by the yellow robin.  Alas, it was a White-throated, not a Brown.  I admired the robins, and they were joined very quickly by three female Flame Robins.  Brown Thornbills gambled in the gumtrees above.  I'd quite forgotten the malicious magpies of a few hours ago.
Greenhill Dam

We drove to Greenhill Dam, the spot where I saw my first Regent Honeyeater many years ago.  We saw White-winged Choughs and Fuscous Honeyeaters.  Then it was on to Bartley's Block.  Here, I had a list of (I thought) easy requirements.  I wanted a Jacky Winter, a Red-capped Robin and a Turquoise Parrot.  I met some birders at the gate, who told me there'd been a recent release of Regent Honeyeaters.  They'd seen a female Red-capped Robin on the hill.  I thanked them and set off towards my robin.  I saw Grey Fantails, Little and Yellow-rumped Thornbills, Eastern Spinebills and a gorgeous male Golden Whistler, but no Red-capped Robin, no Jacky Winter and no Turquoise Parrot.  A Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike flew over, distracting me.  I saw a large bright orange fungus.  Then, amongst a flock of thornbills, I saw a Speckled Warbler.  These are one of my favourite birds.  I've seen them on Skeleton Hill, but never before on Bartley's Block.

We drove up Fishers Lane looking for Grey-crowned Babblers, but had no luck.  Rog noticed that the signs that used to alert people to the possible presence of babblers had gone, and I realized it had been a while since I'd seen them here.  Later, at home, I consulted my records and found that I had not seen Grey-crowned Babblers in Chiltern since March 2009.  We deduced that they'd gone.  It was always a small flock, and their demise seemed inevitable, with no new recruits to the group.  Nevertheless I was sad.  Babblers are such happy characters.

I always think of quail-thrush when we drive along McGuiness Road, in the Mt Pilot section of the national park.  It was very quiet this morning, although, at last, I did see my Brown Treecreepers.  And I saw a very handsome male Flame Robin.

I needed a Satin Bowerbird for my annual list, so we decided to drive to Lake Kerford in Beechworth.  Rog stopped off at Woolshed Falls, so I could add Striated Thornbill to my list.  They are always present, high in the canopy, giving me a sore neck as I look up to identify them.  And, there in the carpark, playing happily on the ground out in the open, were two Speckled Warblers!  I'd never seen them at Bartley's Block before, and I'd never seen them at Woolshed Falls.  I wonder if it's been a particularly good year for Speckled Warblers.

I did not see a Satin Bowerbird at Lake Kerford, but I did see a Wonga Pigeon, another new bird for my year list.  My birdlist for the day was now at 63.  Not bad for a cold autumn day.

Back in Chiltern, we drove up Donchi Hill Road to Lapin dam.  It was cold and the birds were very quiet.  Nothing was drinking at the dam.  As I walked down the road while Rog read his newspaper, I saw Brown-headed Honeyeaters playing in the gum leaves.

Driving back to Rutherglen, I saw a flock of over fifty Magpie-larks.  Birds that breed in summer, sometimes flock in autumn.  These are the unpaired youngsters from the summer brood.  But I've never seen flocks of Magpie-larks before.  Most unusual.

For a cold autumn day, I thought I'd done very well, notwithstanding the lack of Turquoise Parrots, Jacky Winters and Red-capped Robins.  I have to leave some easy birds for my next trip to Rutherglen, which can't come soon enough as far as I'm concerned.