13th May, 2009 - I headed out early this morning for a visit to the Long Forest Nature Conservation Reserve near Bacchus Marsh. This is a large and floristically diverse native vegetation remnant consisting of, among other things, large stands of Bull Mallee, Eucalyptus behriana. This is the closest of its type to Melbourne as well as being an outlier to populations of the same and other mallee species in Victoria's northwest.
Wandering around I got the distinct impression that winter was well and truly here, not only because it was pretty cold but because bird activity was quite low, and what birds I saw had formed into their little winter feeding flocks. These aren't bird waves mind you like one sees in Malaysian rainforests, where one is standing in an area seemingly devoid of birdlife; you here a couple of calls then all of a sudden you are surrounded by multitudes of birds moving in no discernible direction, and you don't know where to look. No, this was a far more subdued arrangement, more like a bird trickle, and it was much easier to observe things like a beautiful female Speckled warbler, the male and female Scarlet Robin, Striated and Brown Thornbills, Spotted and Striated Pardalotes, White-eared and Brown-headed Honeyeaters, Grey Shrike-thrushes, Varied Sitellas, White-throated Treecreepers and Silvereyes. And each species occupying their own little feeding niche, be it on the ground amongst fallen timber and debris, on trunks and under bark, in branches and stems, and amongst foliage. The pardalotes were even foraging in a stratum not normally associated with these birds, ie on the ground. It was nigh on impossible for me to tell what they were feeding on, but it was a similar situation to that which we observed recently in the nearby Brisbane Ranges National Park, and could indicate that the pardalotes preferred food source - lerps, is in short supply.
There was an Australian Raven mournfully wailing away in the distance too, which coupled with the cold, stark and generally silent forest, lent a feeling of ineffable desolation to the experience, which is a rare thing so close to a capital city.
21st May, 2009 - PawelMichalak, a Polish ex-pat living in Texas and working as a genetic biologist, was in Melbourne for but a few days as part of a job application process, and luckily for me had managed a free half-day for birding. Pawel had heard much about the Western Treatment Plant and was particularly keen to see it for himself, as well as visit a few other areas for bushbirds and waterbirds. The best thing for Pawel was that just about all the birds were lifers for him, having had a few brief sorties in the preceding days around Bundoora, looking at lorikeets, rosellas, cockatoos, etc.
A quick tour of the Treatment Plant as usual produced some nice birds, and we found a lone Banded Stilt, a singing Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo, some White-winged Black-terns still present and resplendent in breeding plumage, and a couple of White-bellied Sea-eagles.
Heading over to the You Yangs we were able to pick up Brush Bronzewing, Scarlet Robin, Jacky Winter and Buff-rumpedThornbill, but not a lot else, as the day was cold and quite windy, keeping the bird activity down.
So we drove back toward the Hobsons Bay area to finish the tour, hoping to see the some Double-banded Plovers around the mouth of Laverton Creek. Luckily the tide was right and there were several DB Plovers in attendance so Pawel was able to take some nice photos. Also present was one Hudsonian Godwit which surprised us both, feeding in company with two Bar-tailed Godwits. The bird had been seen about a week prior, a little further down the coast in the Cheetham Wetlands; luckily for us it decided to turn up at Laverton Creek and grace us with its presence. However, for Pawel it wasn't a new bird as he has observed several whilst living in the United States.
There was also a small flock of Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoos nearby feeding in a scrappy cypress, which is highly unusual for the area. This species has been seen widely around the Greater Melbourne area in recent months, some even frequenting trees and gardens in the CBD. It has been suggested these may be birds displaced by the horrific fires in February that burned large areas to the north and east of Melbourne. Perhaps they are now taking advantage of the abundance of cones and seeds available on exotic conifers that are planted around the city's environs.
Other birds noted in the morning's birding included Zebra Finch, Flame Robin, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Australian Spotted Crake, Singing Honeyeater, Banded Lapwing and White-winged Chough.
Thanks to Pawel for a lively morning that sort of stretched out to the best part of a day!!