This weekend was the annual Birds Australia survey of the graptogyne race of Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, undertaken throughout the sub-species' range in far south-eastern South Australia and south-west Victoria. A team of volunteers carries out surveys and counts cockatoo numbers to ascertain a population estimate and thus determine whether the sub-species is in continual decline or not.
In any event, my area was to cover the Jilpanger Flora & Fauna Reserve just south-west of Horsham and Natimuk. This is a vast tract of land consisting of sandy heaths dominated by Brown Stringybark and Yellow Gum, and is utilized by the Red-tails when the stringybarks have set seed.I didn't record any RTBC on my beat in Jilpanger, but there were plenty of other avian surprises.
I camped in a beautiful clearing in the north of the reserve on Friday night, and was serenaded to sleep by boobooks and owlet-nightjars. At around 4.30am I was woken by a Tyto owl screeching off in the distance; I assume it was a Barn Owl.Then at 5.30am I was again stirred from sleep by a bird, this time not by an owl, but the eerie wailing of a Bush Stone-Curlew as it vocalized through the still and chilly pre-dawn air.What a way to wake up, such a beautiful sound. I got up and made some coffee as the east sky gradually got lighter and other, more diurnal birds commenced the dawn chorus.White-eared and New Holland Honeyeaters were first, then Red Wattlebirds, followed by Grey Currawong, Weebill, Golden Whistler, etc, the list goes on.There were even Variegated Fairy-Wrens and a pair of Shy Hylacola present; two species I hadn't expected there.I ended up seeing and hearing 35 species in this magic little spot, and one of the last birds to call before I left was an Aus. Owlet-Nightjar at 8am! Crazy.
Anyway, the birding was great throughout the day, and in the different pockets I visited I picked up Peregrine Falcon, Peaceful Dove, Purple-crowned Lorikeet, Black-chinned Honeyeater, more Shy Hylacola, 3 separate calling Fan-tailed Cuckoos, more Variegated Fairy-Wren, Forest and Australian Raven, Tawny-crowned Honeyeater, big flocks of White-browed Woodswallow, Southern Whiteface and a beautiful male Hooded Robin.
Having completed my route and with a couple of hours of daylight up my sleeve I decided to head down to the Casterton area to see if I could find some of these mythical cockatoos for myself.I ended up around 20km west of Casterton in NangeelaStateForest along a track where some RTBC had been seen recently.The sun was getting like really low and I was running out of light big time.Having traversed this track for several kilometers without a sniff I was heading back along the same track when I heard the distinctive brassy call.The car wasn't even stopped as I leapt out in time to see about ten beautiful black-cockatoos sail over the forest, their gilt-edged plumage tinged pink by the setting sun.What a moment.
Gathering some presence of mind I had a light-bulb moment and followed the birds in the direction of their flight.A couple of clicks down the road I came to the edge of the forest, and there they were, getting ready to roost for the night in some roadside trees.Some other little groups were out in a paddock chasing each other around and wailing away; I reckon I saw about 30 birds.I managed to quietly walk up to a tree with several birds in it and watched them preening and muttering to one another as the light faded.Fantastic.
This was possibly one of the best days I've ever had birding, from start to finish it was just brilliant, full of fantastic birds and new habitats.I will be back.
8-9th May 2010 Double Big Day
Richard, a semi-retired IT entrepeneur was here on business from the UK and I was lucky enough to have the pleasure of his company for two full days of solid birding to take in as many habitats and therefore as many bird species as possible in the given time. So a rough itinerary was fleshed out and we were away.
First port of call was the magnificent wet sclerophyll forest and remant rainforest patches found in Toolangi State Forest north-east of Melbourne. Things were a little drizzly at first and the birding slow, but as soon as the sun burned throught the mist we hit a purple patch. In five minutes we witnessed a beautiful male Pink Robin, a pair of Pilotbird, Large-billed Scrubwren, Gang-Gang Cockatoo and Red-browed Treecreeper. Superb Lyrebird was briefly glimpsed twice, and we eventually had superb views of an Olive Whistler.
Leaving the forest we headed across country toward the Heathcote area, birding en route. At the Goulburn River we saw an Azure Kingfisher from the bridge perched on a snag, and in nearby woodland saw mixed feeding flocks of Flame & Scarlet Robin, Yellow-rumped, Yellow, Buff-rumped & Brown Thornbill, Spotted & Striated Pardalote, Dusky Woodswallow, Tree Martin, and Brown-headed & White-plumed Honeyeater.
Further on a quick stop at some likely-looking grassy woodland produced some snappy birds in the form of a pair of the endangered Swift Parrot, Black-chinned Honeyeater, Musk Lorikeet and a large and garrulous flock of White-winged Chough.
We were really rocking along now, and after finally reaching the Heathcote area the birdlist just kept growing. We stopped in some box-ironbark woodland just south of town, picking up more groups of Swift Parrot, tiny sqaudrons of both Little and Purple-crowned Lorikeet, White-browed Babbler, Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Fuscous Honeyeater and both White-naped & Yellow-faced Honeyeater. Just north of Heathcote is a very reliable spot for Speckled Warbler and Chestnut-rumped Heathwren. We managed to get onto a Speckled Warbler, but getting a visual on the ultra shy heathwren was beyond us on this late afternoon, however we did hear a couple of sound-bytes of its subdued and dulcet song as the setting sun cast a beautiful pink hue across the sky. What a day, and more to come tomorrow!!
And tomorrow did indeed arrive. We set off for the great south-west, aiming for the Surf Coast. Our first quarry for the day was Rufous Bristlebird, and we had alighted from the vehicle for no more than five score seconds when we saw a pair hopping about unconcernedly along the boardwalk. Storming (Richard's word not mine) views were had of these crackers as well as a lovely Singing Honeyeater and a couple of Shy Albatross just offshore, before we zoomed away to the wilds of the Anglesea Heathlands. Birds obliged us here too in the early morning sunshine, and we soon had stonking looks at Southern Emu-wren, Striated Fieldwren and an amazing Tawny-crowned Honeyeater. A single Blue-winged Parrot flew overhead and we heard the deep baritone of a Forest Raven off in the distance. Very peaceful place there.
But peace wasn't on the agenda, birds were, so we spirited ourselves away to the coast again, this time to look for Hooded Plover, Double-banded Plover, Red-capped Plover and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, all of which were soon under the belt and vastly appreciated it has to be said.
Our final destination was the vast and windswept expanse of the Western Treatment Plant at Werribee. I've written about this place several times before and there are only so may superlatives one can muster, yet once again we gathered a swag of species for the list, highlights for Richard being Red-necked Avocet, Banded Lapwing, Black Falcon, singles each of Fairy & Little Tern in non-breeding plumage, side by side offering excellent comparison of salient identification features, Cape Barren Goose, Blue-billed Duck and last but not least a glorious and almost fluoresecent male Flame Robin on a fencepost in the late afternoon sun. A top end to two days excellent birding. The final tally was an impressive 160 species, including species heard.
The weekend of the 15-16th May is the autumn leg of the bi-annual Swift Parrot Survey that takes place every year to determine a population estimate of the species in their wintering grounds, as well as looking at foraging methods, tree species utilised and the extent of flowering of eucalypts within the box-ironbark region of central Victoria. Incidentally, this year has seen the best rains for may many years delivered to several parts of the box-ironbark belt and subsequently the flowering of the eucalypts has been tremendous. Furthermore, the Swift Parrots had arrived en masse...
My allocated patch was in the forest reserves just to the south of Heathcote, and I drove slowly along several trails, stopping every 500m to listen for Swifties. On several occasions I had to stop as a flock flew through or I heard them calling. I ended up with a conservative tally of over 100 for the day, mostly flocks of 5-20 with several individuals and pairs. also. Very hard to count exact numbers as groups would zoom through then double back, new groups would come in or leave, some stay, some leave, flocks mixing, you get the picture.
Anyway, incidental sightings of other species helped pad out the day, as well as portraying the rich diversity of species that utilise the flowering eucs and the excellent mixed and layered forest vegetation stratas in these reserves. Musk, Little and Purple-crowned Lorikeet were present in varying numbers, and honeyeaters were thick with a huge abundance of White-naped and Yellow-faced, as well as Black-chinned, Yellow-tufted, Fuscous, Blue-faced, Brown-headed, New Holland, White-plumed and White-eard Honeyeaters. There were Eastern Spinebil, Noisy Friarbird and stacks of Red Wattlebird too. Other groovy birds included 2 White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, one of which had a dark hood, a couple of over-wintering Olive-backed Oriole and many Dusky Woodswallow over the forest canopy.
A brilliant day and can't wait for the second installment later this winter.
30th May, 2010 Half Day Tour
The penultimate day of autumn for 2010. A cold, wet and blustery harbinger of the imminent winter just around the corner saw Richard and me mixing it with nature and trying to conjure up a nice mix of birds for a morning. Not having birded in Australia previously Richard had the pleasure of every bird being a new one, and once we got past the drizzle and out of the wind the birds turned it on. At our first stop we had groups of Flame and Scarlet Robin, each with stunning males, singing Weebill, Diamond Firetail, White-throated Treecreeper, 2 gorgeous male Mistletoebirds in a bit of a territorial stoush, Jacky Winter and a big flock of over 100 Sulphur-crested Cockatoo all washed clean and gleaming white by the rain. Beautiful sight.
At the nearby You Yangs Regional Park we got onto a big winter mixed-species congregation that included many Spotted & Striated Pardalote, Eastern Yellow Robin, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, flocks of Silvereye, Golden Whistler, Brown-headed Honeyeater and Yellow-faced Honeyeater. Further into the park we eventually found a good flock of Swift Parrot and had some nice prolonged views of them perched atop a dead tree and feeding in some flowering eucalypts. The place was fairly throbbing with birds and we also saw there Black-chinned Honeyeater, Black Falcon, a pair of Little Eagle, Musk and Purple-crowned Lorikeet, Crested Shrike-tit, Nankeen Kestrel and Buff-rumped Thornbill. On our way put we lucked upon a beautiful Peregrine Falcon as well a decent-sized mob of Eastern Grey Kangaroo.
With a bit of time left we did a quick scout around Lake Borrie in the Western Treatment Plant and managed to conjure up amongst others, 2 White-bellied Sea-eagle, snoozing Pink-eared Ducks, some Cape Barren Geese and a flock of Fluttering Shearwater well offshore out in the bay. We finished off with a beautiful male Flame Robin on a fencepost along the road out, and tallied a tidy 95 species for the morning.