An hour's birding this morning after 9am produced some good stuff at my local patch. A Pied Cormorant flying over was my first record here, as strange as that sounds, because there are plenty not 3km away along the coast. I guess they don't move too far from their comfort zone.
Also my first record here, and a long-awaited one, was the marvellous sight of two squadrons of White-throated Needletail that passed overhead from the south-west, consisting of about 30 birds in each flock. These birds were really moving, not diving and swooping or sallying for insects as is often the case; they seemed to be flying with intent, and were quickly out of sight.
The only other species of note was a pair of immature Brown Goshawk patrolling the reserve and straining the vocal chords of every freaked out New Holland Honeyeater in the place.
20th March, 2010 Western Treatment Plant
This morning I met up with fellow bird-guide from northern Victoria, Simon Starr, with a view to cruising around the treatment plant to see what was on show. We had but a few hours to spare the both of us, but in the end it mattered not as we didn't have to travel far to experience excellent birding. Waders and terns were the big players this morning and we were privy to the sight of over a hundred Bar-tailed Godwit wheeling about just offshore and calling loudly. Closer inspection revealed slightly smaller individuals that, when alighted, proved to be a scattering of Red Knot and Great Knot. Of the five or so Great Knot present, the majority seemed to be close to if not in full breeding plumage. Readers, if you haven't seen a Great Knot in full alternate regalia, I strongly urge you to do so. A wonderful sight it is indeed. Other wader activity took the form of a single Ruddy Turnstone who also was attaining striking breeding garb, a good sized flock of 30 Australian Pied Oystercatcher, a bunch of crisply-marked Red-necked Avocet and smaller numbers of Red-necked Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, some of which displayed beautiful coloration also.
We managed to catch up with 47 White-winged BlackTern as well, the whole flock dipping and wheeling low over a nearby lagoon. Many of these birds were displaying dappled and patchy black & white plumage, looking like big butterflies. Hopefully they stay a bit longer, enough to obtain full breeding plumage, which itself is a spectacular sight, before heading back to the freshwater marshes of Central Asia to breed.
Other terns about today were good numbers of Fairy and Little Tern, 40 odd Common Tern loafing on some rocks, and the ubiquitous coastal Crested Tern.
We were also fortunate to witness not one but two Lewin's Rail in coastal saltmarsh, one of which we watched, the bird seemingly unperturbed, for close to half an hour, at about 4m distance, in the sun!! Remarkable.
Elsewhere we saw the resident pair of Brolga very well, accompanied by this season's progeny, a nice Great Crested Grebe moulting into basic plumage, and good numbers of Fairy & Tree Martin were still present.
A great morning of birding, thanks Simon for the company.
21st March, 2010 Beach, Billabong and Bush.
I think I was a bit over-zealous this morning when I picked up my client, Debbie from the city at 6am. We were only going as far as the Western Treatment Plant, but I thought to myself it'll be okay, it'll be light by the time we get there, which of course it wasn't - didn't factor in the shortening of the days at this time of year... So we sat and had a coffee and chatted, and waited about 20 minutes or so until dark blobs on a nearby lagoon morphed into shapes resembling birds and we were away!! At least the birds were straight away on show, as if to help make up for my lack of judgement(!), and there were several terns in evidence as we entered the plant. A small flock of Fairy Tern in various plumage phases flew by, as did a larger flock of White-winged Black-tern, several Common Tern and a few Crested Tern. Nice stuff, and a flock of Bar-tailed Godwits also dropped in, their short and sad calls pervading the still fresh morning air. Also calling nearby was a Brown Quail from deep within a thicket, and a late Australian Reed-warbler.
Almost all the birds were new to Debbie as she had not birded in Oz before, and we had brilliant views of things like flocks of lamellae-lipped Pink-eared Duck feeding in formation, a cracking male Blue-billed Duck at close range, an Australian Hobby on the hunt, coursing high and low, and actually nabbing a few hapless dragonflies as we watched. Debbie also saw a Buff-banded Rail right out in the open between reed-beds, and thus gripped off her erstwhile husband (who happens to love anything ralliform). Debbie was also quite fond of the Swamp Harrier, of which several were in evidence this morning.
After a few hours slowly exploring the area we decided to head over to the You Yangs Regional Park to try and pick up some groovy bush birds. Parking up we had another coffee break whilst Weebills "wee-bill"ed overhead, and a Little Eagle soared even higher overhead. Strolling down to a nice interface of habitats where riparian vegetation, farmland and woodland all meet, I was hoping for some excellent bush birds, such as I experienced in the same location on the 18th Feb. Amazing what a difference a month makes - the Rainbow Bee-eaters had migrated north, in fact there was very little birdlife in evidence, a stark contrast to the purple patch Dennis and I experienced back then. However we did find birds, and enjoyed satisfactory looks at Golden & Rufous Whistler, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, White-plumed Honeyeater and Eastern Rosella, all lifers for Debbie. We lit out for another location not far away in the hope of more species diversity, and managed to connect with some small feeding flocks consisting of Yellow, Yellow-rumped and Brown Thornbill, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, several Grey Fantail on passage from Tasmania, Spotted and Striated Pardalote and good numbers of Silvereye, also migrants from Tasmania.
On our way back we pulled into a known location for corellas, and there were small numbers of Long-billed and Little Corella loafing in a cypress. A nice way to finish up, we had close looks at the lovely mix of red, pink, blue and yellow in their plumage as they sat and watched us sitting and watching them.
In the end our list for the half day wasn't too shabby, we tallied 96 species, and Debbie was rapt. She even gave me a tip. Does life get any better??
22nd March, 2010 Altona area
With a lovely late afternoon beckoning us outside, my daughter Wren and I decided to drive along the coast of Altona, looking at the foreshore and a couple of creek mouths at low tide, to see what was kicking about.
We found a pair of recently arrived Double-banded Plover from New Zealand, 4 Cattle Egret snoozing on rocks just offshore - unusual species here and unusual behaviour as well! There were lots of egret about in fact, with a total of 4 Eastern Great and 3 Little Egret scattered along the coast, plus the Cattle Egrets. Another recent autumn arrival to these parts was a single Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, regular cool month occupiers of the Altona area. We also counted 12 Greenshank in total, a good number for here, about 40 Common Tern feeding and roosting off Seaholme foreshore, and a wandering Whistling Kite.
26th March, 2010 Newport Lakes Park
I had a brief window of opportunity for some birding this morning, so without any hesitation I headed to my favorite local patch. There had been a few clear and calm nights prior to today, and I was really hoping that some migrant action had resulted in a few birdies dropping in. Sure as eggs, there was a juvenile Rufous Fantail present in some dense shrubbery in one of the more secluded sections of the reserve, a species I have desperately hoped to see here, and most likely a bird on passage. As is so often the case with this species at this time of year, individual birds can turn up in quite unusual places whilst on migration. Keeping company with the fantail was a juvenile Golden Whistler, an autumn/winter visitor to the reserve from wetter forests in higher altitudes.
Things are a changing once again in southern Victoria, and cooler weather is definitely on the way. Day-time temperatures are dropping and the nights are noticeably cooler. However as I say this we are still experiencing a record-smashing 100+ consecutive days of over 20 degrees Celsius. Amazing, and a sign of climate change tending toward warmer averages?? Who knows?
In any event the birding around town is still great and there is lots to experience. Autumn movement and activity is well and truly under way, with several wader species now bedecked in their courtship finery. Several Great & Red Knot, Bar-tailed & Black-tailed Godwit, Red-necked Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Common Greenshank have all been seen of late looking somewhat different to their normal austral summer selves, and already numbers of birds present at places such as the Western Treatment Plant have dropped as the birds leave en masse to the Northern Hemisphere. That fantastic little Trans-Tasman migrant the Double-banded Plover has arrived from the breeding grounds in New Zealand in good numbers at the usual haunts, and look to be settling in for the winter. When they arrive many of the adults are still displaying breeding color and thay look brilliant; alas a lot of this plumage has been rapidly moulted already. Migratory terns such as White-winged Black-Tern and Common Tern are still present in some numbers and are also putting on breeding plumage. Recent big rains in inland Australia have seen large numbers of the more nomadic wildfowl disappear from regular wetlands, and species such as Hardhead, Pink-eared Duck and even Grey Teal numbers have plummeted locally.
Passerines are also on the move, and migratory species such as Satin Flycatcher, Black-faced Monarch, Rainbow Bee-eater, White-throated Gerygone, Sacred Kingfisher and all the local cuckoos have been silent for some time now and all but disappeared from their summer holdings. Rufous Fantail are also heading north, although this species can turn up anywhere on passage; I had one recently in my local patch in Newport Lakes Park, and last year I saw one at the Melbourne Zoo around this time. The mass migration of Yellow-faced & White-naped Honeyeaters has yet to be seen on a large scale this autumn, although there are some trickles of Yellow-faced Honeyeater moving about.
White-throated Needletail numbers have been low in Victoria this year, although there are still a few birds about, possibly because of the persistence of some humid weather and associated thunderstorms, plus an absence yet of any decent southerly changes with strong winds to push them along their way.
Perhaps for the same reason Swift Parrot and Orange-bellied Parrot, both winter migrants from Tasmania, have not yet showed up in any significant number. Swifties are the far more obvious of the two, being vocal in flight and often heard on passage; by late March they are usually here on the mainland in good numbers, but so far this year not many have been seen at all.
The Orange-bellied Parrot is a slightly different prospect, this is a species in serious trouble and teetering on the brink of extinction on the wild, the population is apparently continuing to decline despite the best efforts of the OBP Recovery Program. To date there has been one record on the mainland this year of a single individual at one of the species' regular wintering sites south-west of Melbourne.
As autumn wears on other changes will occur as the weather takes a sharper turn toward the cooler weather typical of mid-April onwards. Altitudinal migrants such as Flame, Rose & Pink Robin, Bassian Thrush, Golden and even Olive Whistler will abandon alpine and mountain areas and soon start be seen in open areas, riparian strips of woodland and coastal scrub.
On a more local scale, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater have returned in small numbers already to some of the local parks and reserves south-west of Melbourne, and Red Wattlebirds and Little Ravens have been seen flocking in typical post-breeding dispersal.