Eric from the USA had contacted me and was very interested in touring various areas around Greater Melbourne for bird photographic opportunities. So we set aside the next two days to visit areas such as Western Treatment Plant and Brisbane Ranges National Park. Eric was in town on business and had already managed to squeeze in several hours at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne, getting amongst others some brilliant shots of Bell Miner.
We spent ten hours at the Western Treatment Plant, and I have to admit it was a different type of birding than what I'm accustomed to. Normally it's varying degrees of racing around the countryside looking for this or that, but today it was more a case of sit and wait - wait for the bird to relax, become accustomed to our presence, for it to approach a bit closer, and wait for the perfect shot. In this way Eric was able to manage just superb shots of Black-fronted Dotterel, Red-kneed Dotterel, Golden-headed Cisticola, Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo, White-fronted Chat, Striated Fieldwren, Brown Falcon and Banded Lapwing. It was a really enjoyable day and great for me to sit back and watch for once!
2nd August, 2009: Brisbane Ranges
Today was an even better day than the previous weatherwise, which was a good thing, because Eric and I were going bush. We headed out to some open woodland areas at the northern end of the Brisbane Ranges and had much success in connecting with close in views of several birds. Beautiful snaps were taken of Striated Thornbill, Crested Shrike-tit, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Scarlet Robin, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Brown Treecreeper, Long-billed Corella and many others.
Thanks to Eric for a great laid-back couple of days, punctuated by lively discussion about climate change, world leaders and the media, but not necessarily in that order...
8th August, 2009: Greater Bendigo National Park
The Goldfields of Central Victoria set the scene for today's birding excursion, more specifically the Greater Bendigo National Park, where myself and David from Werribee planned to catch up with some of the typical birds of the box-ironbark and mallee habitats found within the reserve. It was such a beautiful morning as we headed up the Calder Freeway and things looked promising for a clear and calm winter's day, which also happened to be David's birthday. We were not disappointed as some speccy birds started coming thick and fast the moment we arrived. David had his first Varied Sitellas in no time, quickly followed by an inquisitive Shy Hylacola, a pair of Gilbert's Whistler, male Crested Bellbird, singing Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters in the distance, Yellow-faced & White-naped Honeyeaters in flocks passing over, Grey Currawong and, just as we were about to leave we heard the far off but very distinctive slow, down-slurred whistle of a Black-eared Cuckoo!! Imitating the call resulted in the bird hurtling in within ten seconds, so it must have been closer than I thought, as well as clearly looking for a mate. I didn't think my cuckoo pick-up skills were that good. Anyway it was a cracking adult and it gave us very generous views. This was a most salubrious start to the day. However things didn't let up. At another site along the road dominated by broombrush mallee we found ourselves in the midst of a hive of activity once again with 3 Purple-gaped Honeyeater, two warring parties of Variegated Wren facing off on what must been the borders of each other's territories (also the track we were standing on), a highly active group of Inland Thornbill, White-eared Honeyeater, Golden Whistler, White-browed Babblers calling some way off in the scrub, and a Fantailed Cuckoo singing mournfully. David's head was agog with a plethora of new birds, but we pressed on nonetheless, soon finding Yellow-plumed, Yellow-tufted and Fuscous Honeyeater, a little group of Jacky Winter, Red-capped Robin, a soaring Peregrine Falcon, a Yellow Thornbill flock, Buff-rumped Thornbill and Brown Treecreeper. A little further on we even heard a daytime-calling Australian Owlet-nightjar. A break was needed so we had a cup of coffee and some cake - it was his birthday after all. The quality of birding was relentless and we were soon watching Hooded Robin, Speckled Warbler singing, Chestnut-rumped Thornbills nest-building, lots of Eastern Rosella & Red-rumped Parrot flocking loosely together which formed a riot of color, more Varied Sitella, Restless Flycatcher, Eastern Yellow Robin and a couple of returning migrants in the shape of 3 Rufous Whistler. In the afternoon we managed to catch up with a single White-browed Babbler, Wedge-tailed Eagle, a small party of Black-chinned Honeyeater, and last but not least at dusk a Brush Bronzewing on the side of the track.
It was a pretty great day and David ended up with 16 lifers which he was pretty stoked about, needless to say. Wish my birthday had been that good this year...mind you I did recieve a particularly outstanding gift from my beautiful partner Cara which left me REELING. More to follow...
Whilst it's still officially winter here in Melbourne as I write this (late August) and we are currently in the midst of a freezing cold snap, the past few weeks has seen a different sort of ambience take hold, a definite shift in the milieu as it were. There has been a slight rise in temperature, many trees have blossomed and sweet perfumes waft on the breeze.
A further indicator that seasonal changes are afoot is of course bird activity. For some weeks now Little Ravens and Australian Magpies have been busily nest-building, the Red Wattlebirds have started their pre-dawn "yok-yok-yok" calls, White-plumed Honeyeaters engage in their ascending display flights, and even European Blackbirds are singing(I know they're plastics but they sound great). Early spring migrants are arriving - White-winged Trillers have turned up in small numbers locally, Horsfield's Bronze Cuckoo and Fantailed Cuckoos have made their presence known, and Australian Reed-Warblers are back. On the 13th August I saw a small party of freshly arrived Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at Western Treatment Plant, along with many Red-necked Stint, some of which were still in varying degrees of breeding plumage. Fairy Martin and Grey Fantail had also arrived in small numbers and an early Brown Songlark was recorded a few days prior.
Other species like Olive-backed Oriole, Shining Bronze-cuckoo, Pallid Cuckoo and Rufous Songlark will be here and belting out their tunes soon, while later arriving migrants like Satin Flycatcher, Rufous Fantail and Black-faced Monarch will complete the spring conversion. And of course there is the ever-present potential for an ultra-rare wader to turn up. With all this excitement, you wouldn't be dead for quids!!
29th August, 2009: Western Treatment Plant
Today's outing was something a little different. My guest for the morning was Debbie, a Melbourne-based writer who is putting together a piece on the Western Treatment Plant and it's avifaunal attractions, more specifically to coincide with the spring arrival of migratory shorebirds from their breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere. The intention was to do a little bit of a tour of the plant, talking about the birds, habitat, etc, however the day got off to a dreadful start with driving rain, poor visibility and an unfortunate visit to the vet clinic with a mortally wounded magpie.
Undeterred we pressed on, chatting about the various aspects of the plant, the value of the location for birds, in particular the migratory and endemic waders, and a myriad other things. Oh, and we also saw birds too. Newly arrived Marsh Sandpiper and many Whiskered Tern, a pair of White-necked Heron, 2 magnificent adult White-bellied Sea-eagle and their prey, an unfortunate grebe that was despatched mercifully quickly, Glossy Ibis and many waders in the form of Red-kneed Dotterel, Red-necked Avocet, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper and Red-necked Stint. The latter three were in good number and several individuals still donned varying levels of breeding plumage, ranging from apricot, chestnut, rufous and brick-red in hue. The rain stopped late morning and bird activity piqued; we added Buff-banded Rail, Brown Goshawk, singing Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo, Golden-headed Cisticola, Zebra Finch, Fairy Martin seemingly everywhere, Dusky Woodswallow and the bizarre sight of a female Musk Duck in flight high in the sky. That's a first for me and amazing to witness first-hand, but not all that surprising as they are known wanderers, flying at night usually and turning up in various deeper waterways.
Thanks to Debbie for an interesting morning with good birding and good conversation, watch this space for a possible press release in the near future!!