In terms of bird numbers and diversity and just for sheer visual impact it is difficult to go past the Western Treatment Plant.It may not be the prettiest place in the world and it certainly aint easy on the nose, but if you happen to require that your senses are awash with the sights and sounds of fifty thousand or so birds, then this is the place for you.
And so it was for Ross from Wheelers Hill in Victoria.Ross had read a recent article in the Herald Sun (featuring amongst other things yours truly) about the Western Treatment Plant and the avian delights held within.Having never visited the plant, Ross was intensely curious to experience the place. Not after a big list or to see 'x' amount of new birds, he took on a more holistic approach and simply hoped to enjoy the visual aspect of touring the plant.To put it simply, he was amazed.
The weather was kind to us, as were the birds.Amongst the plethora of wildfowl and wader on offer in the various swamps, lagoons and shorelines, were many highlights.There were Grey Plover, Great Knot and Red Knot on the mudflats with Fairy Tern quartering the shallows overhead, whilst Australian Spotted Crake skulked around the saltmarsh edges nearby.Several raptors were in evidence, with the best consisting of several Black Kite, a Brown Goshawk, and an Australian Hobby seen in hunting mode.Large numbers of Black-tailed Native-hen were seen in a few spots - continuing the phenomenal influx of the species into southern Victoria this spring/summer, plus many Rufous and Brown Songlark and a Singing Honeyeater that put in an appearance - an uncommon bird on the plant.
These birds combined with all of the usual suspects enabled us to amass a total of ninety species for the morning, plus one very happy birder.
7th December, 2009 Western Treatment Plant
Back at the old farm again, and this time Dave Richardson was in the passenger seat.Dave had heard that there was a wide variety of waders present at the plant and wanted to see if there were a few lifers available for him, most notably Grey Plover.
Well we weren't disappointed, finding 5 of these large and subtly hued plovers on the mudflats, viewing them through our 'scopes from not too far away.Also in the vicinity was a lone Common Tern in basic plumage - another lifer for the big guy, as well as Little Tern, Fairy Tern, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit.In other areas around the plant we heard a Buff-banded Rail, saw a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagle, both Shining & Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoos, and an unexpected sighting in the form of an immature Flame Robin in some shrubbery along the east coast of the plant, a bird that would normally be expected in areas of higher altitude at this time of year.
We managed 102 species for the trip, not a bad effort for a morning's work.
9th December, 2009Central Victorian Woodlands.
Dick Paulson from the United States and his friend Nick Safstrom joined forces today to accompany me on a Central Victorian jaunt to the various habitats and microhabitats contained therein, hoping to find a good selection of birds from the dry woodlands and mallee areas of the Greater Bendigo area.
We arrived early at our first destination just north of Heathcote and commenced birding, albeit in the rain, looking for Speckled Warbler and Chestnut-rumped Heathwren specifically.We found the Speckleds quite easily but the heathwren was a little more reticent and decided not to show itself, even though we heard a bird calling clearly from down in a gully.All Dick got for his troubles was a series of nasty bites from some angry ants, which I guess was understandable from their point of view as Dick had inadvertently positioned himself on their nest whilst scanning for the heathwren.Individual ants kept "appearing" in his pants all day and certainly made their presence felt!Other birds in this area were a nice Leaden Flycatcher, Diamond Firetail, Scarlet Robin, Yellow-faced Honeyeater and Eastern Spinebill.
Moving further north we stopped at a couple of box-ironbark forest locations to see what was about, but the rain was quite heavy and reduced bird activity to a minimum.Here we only picked White-winged Triller and a small party of Varied Sitella.
Our main destination was north of Bendigo in the Greater Bendigo National Park.A vast but disjunct area of box-ironbark woodland interspersed with areas of heathy and tall mallee, there are some great birds here.When the rain finally cleared we managed to hit a purple patch that continued well into the afternoon.At one spot in particular we had Gilbert's Whistler, Shy Heathwren, Red-capped Robin, Variegated Fairywren, Inland Thornbill, Brush Bronzewing and Grey Currawong all by the roadside.Another location gave up Crested Bellbird, Crested Shrike-tit, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Peaceful Dove, White-browed Babbler and Jacky Winter.Our last stop revealed several Rainbow Bee-eater passing overhead, Peregrine Falcon, Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Olive-backed Oriole and Fuscous Honeyeater.
So although it was kind of stop-start birding in quite damp conditions we still managed a tidy list for the day, with a swag of lifers for Dick.Apart from anything Dick and Nick were ace chaps, and there were plenty of laughs all day.
It was a balmy summer evening, I had a beer in one hand and the remote in the other, what could be more relaxing? Well an impromptu spotlighting trip is a pretty good start.A quick phone call to Christo Tzaros, who was more than happy to oblige, and we were off, rampaging through the forest, ready to shoot some owls and nightjars....wth film of course.
We arrived in the general area well before dark so had a chance to see and listen for a few diurnal birds before dusk settled.Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Australian King-Parrot and Common Bronzewing were seen, while Brush Cuckoo, Shining Bronze-cuckoo, Scarlet Honeyeater, and Rufous Fantail were all heard.
Making our way to a clearing deep in the forest we sat and waited for the last chuckles of the local kookaburras to die down and night to really set in.Soon enough several Southern Boobook started 'boobooking' their little owl hearts out, and not long after that we heard the distinctive and maniacal laughter of a White-throated Nightjar some distance off.This bird was answered by an even more distant individual, however try as we might we could not coax the birds in for a happy snap.
But the real action happened when we stopped at a location along a hillside with a dense wet gully below. No sooner were we out of the vehicle than our ears were laid siege to the blood-curdling screams and chewing-of-broken-glass contact calls of a Sooty Owl. And it was perched in a eucalypt right over our heads.Some frantic fumbling and panic-stricken seconds ensued whilst trying to find and engage the spotlight plus camera gear, which the owl must have found amusing as it seemed content to hang around.Anyway some satisfactory photographs were taken.Also at this location, which turned out to be a bit of a purple patch, we heard Powerful Owl from way across the gully, Tawny Frogmouth, Australian Owlet-nightjar, and mammalian contenders in the form of a yapping Sugar Glider and a beautiful Mountain Brushtail Possum, or Bobuck, which I must confess is a completely new personal record.Not often one sees a new Australian mammal, so it was an auspicious moment and one to savour.On our way out we also heard the strangled garglings of a Yellow-bellied Glider, which rounded off the evening nicely.
18th December, 2009 NewportLakes Reserve.
Unfortunately I hadn't had a chance to return here for some weeks due to other commitments, but today I grabbed the opportunity for a quick stop.I didn't have a lot of time so I headed directly for the area where I had seen males of both Leaden and Satin Flycatcher in November.Staggeringly, in the same area as the previous two records, was a female Leaden Flycatcher, singing away and behaving in the same manner as the male Leaden had done.My theory of Newport Lakes Reserve being a bit of a migrant trap has gained a bit of cred I reckon, at least in my mind anyway!!
Also seen on my walk was a nice adult Sacred Kingfisher frequenting the dead trees in the NorthLake - another first for my ever-growing list here, as well as a pair of Royal Spoonbill that appears to have taken up residence. Furthermore the birds appear to be constructing a nest in a small tree on an island in the SouthLake, so with any luck there may be a brood raised: needless to say this would be brilliant.
25th December, 2009 My Backyard.
Christmas Day.My backyard.Me taking out some rubbish or something after breakfast.An Australian Koel flies over, calling as it goes.What better present???
26th December, 2009 NewportLakes Reserve
Amongst other more usual sightings, two Australian Koel were heard here this morning.Unfortunately I could not locate the birds.
The pair of Royal Spoonbill is still present, and appear to be continuing the process of nest-building. Fingers crossed.
29th December, 2009 Bunyip State Park.
Today was another chance for fellow birdbrain Chris Tzaros and myself to leave the city behind for a few hours at least and enjoy some forest birding. We headed to Bunyip State Park in the hope of finding Pilotbird, Scarlet Honeyeater and Rose Robin among others for Chris to finesse his already considerable photographic skills.
The day was beautiful and the forest alive with birdcall. Out of a total of 66 species the highlights were a pair of extremely tame Pilotbird, Beautiful Firetail, an elusive Olive Whistler, Blue-winged Parrot, a pair of Southern Emu-wren, Brush Cuckoo, Scarlet & Rose Robins, Jacky Winter, Scarlet Honeyeater, Rufous Fantail, Red-browed Treecreeper and Painted Button-quail. It was truly a magical morning and Chris managed some incredible pics, especially of the Pilotbirds.
31st December, 2009 Clunes Area.
On this the penultimate day for what has been a magnificent year for The Melbourne Birder I was again in the most pleasurable company of one David Richardson. Here we were yet again looking for some spanking new birds for the big Yorkshireman, and our wanderings took us to the Clunes area of Central Victoria where we hoped to connect with Painted Honeyeater.
A quick diversion on the way to a small woodland remant revealed Peaceful Dove, Rainbow Bee-eater heard high overhead, Little & Musk Lorikeet, Fuscous Honeyeater and a sizeable flock of at least twelve White-browed Babblers foraging on the fairways of a well-treed local golf-course nearby. Quite tame, these birds allowed prolonged views.
Moving on to the well-known Painted HE site we immediately found some nice birds in the dry woodland there. Red-capped Robin, Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Purple-crowned Lorikeet and Weebill were all present, and not long after so was a Painted Honeyeater. Its distinctive call was heard first, and after a few dodgy whistled imitations from me the bird was amazingly coaxed in to investigate the interloping Painted Honeyeater with the defective voice box. Unfortunately it didn't stay put long enough for Dave to clap eyes on it and shot through. After a prolonged search of the area seeing Mistletoebird, Varied Sitella, Brown Goshawk and Buff-rumped Thornbill, but no further sign of the Painted Honeyeater, we had to admit defeat as time was against us. Seems another attempt is what's required...
On the drive back through Clunes some solace was found in a flock of over fifty Black-tailed Native-Hen gracing the embankment of a large dam, as well as a party of five Rufous Songlark - parents and three recently fledged young.