My job today involved a search for one specific species, a species that can be heard a hell of a lot more often than it is seen, and a species if missed can provide a major disappointment for all involved. For this is a spectacular bird, an enigmatic bird, a bird whose origins may stretch back to the very genesis, the dawn, the inception, of the songbird line. I speak of course of the Superb Lyrebird, and what better place to search for it than the world-famous Sherbrooke Forest in the Dandenong Ranges, east of Melbourne. That and the fact that Winneke and Marjolien, my clients for the morning, were accommodated in nearby Belgrave. So I picked them up at 6.30am, in pouring rain and lashing wind; already our prospects were not looking too flash, and we drove the short distance to where I thought we'd have our best chance. Due to the gloomy conditions it took a little longer to become light enough to commence walking, but while waiting we heard a distant Fantailed Cuckoo and the monotonous "oom, oom, oom" of a Tawny Frogmouth, which was a positive start.
A short time later we trekked off into the wilderness. The rain had stopped, the trees were dripping and the smell of the wet Mountain Ash forest was invigorating. We soon had a gorgeous Rose Robin calling and then investigating us, whilst a Rufous Fantail was heard singing nearby. Two minutes further down the track and there was a sudden flurry of sound and wings and I glimpsed a male Superb Lyrebird hurtle off into the scrub. Poor views by anyone's standards but the girls hadn't even seen it! Never mind I said confidently, there'll be more. Inside I was bleeding big time...
A short time later another lyrebird was heard singing away and we crept ever so quietly toward the sound. Something must have spooked this bird however as it stopped singing and was head no more.
I was starting to get that sinking feeling, and Winneke and Marjolien weren't looking real happy. We walked on, it started raining again, the wind howled and the forest had gone quiet, and woe was me.
But the Lyrebird God in Wet Sclerophyll Heaven must have taken pity, for he smiled upon me at that moment, and by His hand thus did smite thee with better vision, for I espied a Superb Lyrebird through the mist, singing from a tree in a clearing. And to further add to the miracle, this bird allowed Winneke and Marjolien to approach to within three metres and observe it and another lyrebird, foraging and singing away on the ground, for a full fifteen minutes. They even got video footage...
Needless to say I breathed a massive sigh of relief, and we all wandered back very happy. But the morning got even better when we bumped into one of the local volunteers who is involved with doing regular surveys of the forest to ascertain lyrebird numbers, activity, breeding, etc. When we told her our activities that morning she offered to take us to a lyrebird nest that was used just last spring. Having never been fortunate enough to see one myself I was amazed at the big, beautiful ball shaped nest placed low in the fork of a wattle. It had been constructed with meticulous care and precision and the entrance decorated with lichen and the soft fibres from a tree fern trunk. A great way to round out our lyebird experience!
After that the weather improved somewhat and we birded another track nearby, finding much activity. Large-billed Scrub-wren, Red-browed Treecreeper, a pair of Brush Bronzewing and Bassian Thrush all provided good views, and Satin Flycatcher was heard. And on the way back a young lyrebird crossed the track ahead of us, a pretty fitting finale I would say
A big thanks to Winneke and Marjolien for their patience and good nature, and for great conversation over coffee while the wind howled and the rain belted down.
18th February, 2010 Big Day Out
From what had begun as a bounty hunt for a certain select few soon snow-balled into a momentous day out with a huge list that reached an almighty climax right on dusk. Sound too good to be true? Not if you're a birder, and certainly not if you are Dennis Jordan from South Africa. Dennis was keen to tick off a few birds on his list not observed on his many previous visits to Oz. Whilst we didn't get all the birds Dennis was after, and whilst this isn't the biggest day list The Melbourne Birder has pulled, it just seemed to get better and better as the day went on, and it felt like we were seeing everything!
Anyway, we commenced birding in some forested hills south-east of Melbourne, and indeed our first bird was a Scarlet Honeyeater, delicately backlit by the early morning sun peeping above the horizon. A great start, and from then on things moved quickly, with Pilotbird, Rose Robin, Satin Flycatcher, Red-browed Treecreeper and Rufous Fantail added in rapid succession.A pair of Southern Emu-wren called from within dense groundcover but remained frustratingly unseen.Although we also heard a Fan-tailed Cuckoo and Shining Bronze-cuckoo, much of the birdsong that heralds Spring and the territorial/breeding events of that time had ceased, and the forest was relatively quiet.However we were on a mission and birds remained to be seen elsewhere.At the Western Treatment Plant we added to Dennis's list species such as Cape Barren Goose, Red-necked Avocet, Black-fronted Plover, Red-kneed Dotterel, Black-tailed Godwit, Marsh Sandpiper, Fairy Tern, White-winged Black Tern, Australian Spotted Crake, Yellow-rumped Thornbill and a lucky pair of Black-tailed Native-hen; two months prior there were literally hundreds of these birds here and we were tripping over them. Recent rain throughout inland Australia caused a mass exodus and so I think we were fortunate to find the pair that we did.
Leaving the WTP is always hard, but there was still plenty of time to catch up with some dry woodland birds, so we made for the nearby You Yangs Regional Park.En route we continued to steadily add birds to the list, with Long-billed Corella, Purple-crowned Lorikeet, White-browed Woodswallow and White-plumed Honeyeater. Our first stop in the You Yangs proved fruitless, so we zoomed around to another good spot, known as a regular summer haunt for Rainbow Bee-eater.A short walk to the site was richly rewarded with immediate sightings of Weebill, Yellow Thornbill, Red-rumped Parrot, Jacky Winter and then, there they were.Rainbow Bee-eaters, up to a dozen in the end were seen, sitting perched and glowing in the late afternoon sun, or wheeling about calling and flashing some brilliant color.It was a lovely moment, yet there as more to come.Every time we tried to head back to the vehicle something else would arrive.Black-chinned Honeyeater, Striated Pardalote, Brown Treecreeper, Diamond Firetail, Collared Sparrowhawk, Scarlet Robin, Eastern Yellow Robin, it just went on and on. And all were lifers for Dennis!We finally made it out, but just when we thought we were spent we encountered another congregation of birds a couple of kilometres down the road.Wheeling in a big flock above the trees were several White-browed and Dusky Woodswallow with recently fledged young birds, all chirping and chattering away. Also here, adding to the melee were Common Bronzewing, Tree Martin, Welcome Swallow and more Black-chinned Honeyeater.
The final tally for the day was a pretty impressive 139 species, far more than I had reckoned on, but more importantly it contained a huge tally of lifers for Dennis.Top day...
24th February, 2010 On a Spotlighting to nothing...
Dennis was back for more, although this time we had the more serene task of searching for nightbirds. By serene I mean it can be a very quiet and peaceful experience patrolling the forest after dark, with obviously far fewer birds to be seen.
Tonight was no exception to the rule, although we did have very close views of a lovely Tawny Frogmouth. We were able to track down two calling White-throated Nightjars in another location, however the birds were a little more reticent than the frogmouth and wouldn't reveal themselves. Very frustrating. To further add to our despair we also heard a Powerful Owl calling some distance away; yet this bird too would not avail itself to us.
Unfortunately this is often the way of spotlighting, and even though tonight wasn't a complete failure, other times can be very disappointing indeed if nothing is seen at all. Dennis was cool though, in fact most birders realise that there are no guarantees whatsoever in terms of encountering our feathered mates.