A week prior to today I was given the news that I was required to undertake a short and unplanned trip to Sydney for family matters. This trip was by road and made even better by the fact that I was able to take an extra day and drive up at my leisure. First stop was Reef Hills State Park near Benalla along the Hume Hwy. More for a power-nap than anything, however all thoughts of snoozing soon dissipated as bird action was apparently going gang-busters. Very quickly I had Red-capped Robin, Leaden Flycatcher, an immature White-throated Gerygone, pair of Speckled Warbler and two Australian King-Parrot that had cleared out from the mountains to winter on the plains. In 20 minutes I had seen or heard 32 species, which was enough to re-charge these old batteries. Not much further up the road I turned off toward the Winton Wetlands north of Benalla, a huge man-made reservoir with peripheral woodland remnants that is now managed for conservation. Here birds tend to abound, and as I drove the west perimeter road I quickly tallied up Grey-crowned Babbler, Hooded Robin, White-necked Heron, Hardhead, Brown Quail, Diamond Firetail, Purple-crowned Lorikeet, Sacred Kingfisher, White-breasted Woodswallow plus late Pallid Cuckoo & Rufous Songlark. Moving on over the border into NSW I put the foot down to get some distance happening as I wanted to make it to the Southern Highlands around Mittagong before dusk. Anyway as per usual this didn't quite happen to plan and I ended up at the Bundanoon section of Morton National Park right on last light, looking out over the Grand Canyon in gloomy and thunderous conditions. I heard once Pilotbird so it was worth the visit...wasn't it?? Next morning, despite the previous evening's ominous-looking weather, the day had dawned a cracker, with full sun and still conditions. I headed to Fitzroy Falls section of Morton NP with Rock Warbler on my mind. Birds were abundant and jumping out of their skins, obviously so happy to be living in what is an incredibly beautiful part of the world. In the carpark a Superb Lyrebird wnadered about unconcernedly like a tame chook, whilst in trees above were Red-browed Treecreeper, Satin Bowerbird and Black-faced Monarch. Along the escarpment walk were heaps more BF Monarch, Rufous Fantail, many Scarlet & Yellow-faced Honeyeaters migrating east along the clifftops, many Rose Robin heard and seen, Wonga Pigeon and Brown Gerygone. At The Grotto where I spent a bit of time I was priveleged to have a Pilotbird jumping around my feet, Beautiful Firetail, Crescent Honeyeater and a Little Wattlebird in Banksia that was present in the woodland on the top of the escarpment. Unfortunately I only had a brief series of calls from a Rock Warbler who chose to remain unseen at the Jersey Lookout. Nevertheless it was a fantastic morning's birding, and I moved on in high spirits to my next destination, Barren Grounds Nature Reserve, a place I've always wanted to visit. The long and windy road to said reserve was pretty tough on the old Saab and I feared I may be putting at risk the very reason for my Sydney visit; to hand over the car to Sydney-based brother-in-law. However the old girl handled the conditions with aplomb and I soon found myself in the misty, mossy and mysterious land of Barren Grounds. If a large herd of sauropods or some ancient austral tyrannosaurid had wandered through I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised. What a place. Of course it was made even better when I plumped a friendly Eastern Bristlebird (not to anthromorphasize our avian subject, but he really was quite amenable to a chat). It was like a new bird for me too, the first and last time I saw the species was at Spicers Gap in Queensland way back in 1992; sadly the population there may in fact be extinct now.) Anyway this was pretty much the only bird I saw whilst there and as much as I'd love to have wandered further into the ancient landscape, time was-a-pressin' and I had to get to the Big Smoke. I'd end the story here but for one last bird - a Dollarbird flying over the highway somewhere near Bankstown in Sydney's west, a happy punctuation in what became a traffic-jam ridden, Saab over-heating, Melbourne-boy-lost-in-foreign-capital-city type nightmare that plagued the end of my otherwise cute little road-trip.
19th March 2011 North-east again.
Buoyed by the bumper crop of birds from a week before and driven by my quest to help my man David from Altona nudge his list along a bit, today we headed back up the Hume Hwy to the Winton Wetlands and Warby-Ovens National Park. Stopping in at Reef Hills State Park produced little of note in contrast to last week, so we didn't hang around. Hitting the Winton Wetlands was a different story however, and on a magnificent morning we quickly racked up 7 Great Crested Grebe, Brown Quail, Peaceful Dove, 3 Sacred Kingfisher, several White-breasted Woodswallow, a dark-hooded White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Hooded Robin, Diamond Firetail, Pid Butcherbird and the first of Dave's lifers for the day, a pair of Grey-crowned Babbler babbling away naughtily in some roadside vegetation along the western side of the wetlands. Good stuff indeed. Moving on we drifted up into the dry woodland of the Warby Ranges hoping to connect with Turquoise Parrot. This wasn't to be unfortunately but we did land good views of Red-capped Robin, Hooded Robin, a totally gorgeous White-throated Gerygone, possible Western Gerygone nearby also, plenty of Speckled Warbler, and a nice little knot of cuckoos all together at Pine Gully consisting of Fantailed, Shining-Bronze and Horsfield's-Bronze. Best of all for David was a Noisy Friarbird that flew in and landed conveniently, affording great views in the sun and another lifer for the big chap. Making our way back toward Melbourne we stopped again at a small series of billabongs near Taminick that we had checked earlier to see what was about, and it was one of those fortuitous occasions whereby one could so easily have sailed past having seen nothing outstanding on our visit, because there were 4 Plumed Whistling-Duck present now, sighted by none other than Dave himself and yet another new bird for the day. Pretty cool finish and provision of some impetus and momentum for the long trip home...
21st March, 2011 Local Patchwork.
A visit to my local patch of Newport Lakes Park is always a pleasant sojourn and rarely am I disappointed by what I see there. Today it was nothing spectacular, there being simply good numbers of autumn visitors in the form of 6-7 or more Grey Fantail and 3 Striated Pardalote, typical for this time of year here. The pardalotes appeared to be race ornatus, which also fits the bill. I did however have a pair of race striatus, migrantsfrom Tasmania, here earlier in the month which was a first for the park. I love my little patch... 27th March, 2011 Spotlight on Sooty
With hope in our hearts Sue from Kew and myself headed out into the night, expectations high for to clap our lookers on that most coveted of Australian nightbirds, the Sooty Owl. To Bunyip State Park we set our course, and it was pretty much dark by the time we got to the spot where White-throated Nightjar can be seen in summer. There were none present this evening, but it didn't matter as we were here for one bird only. As we pulled up to the first of several possible spots for the Sooty, I though I heard something as I turned off the engine. Waited, listened, there it was again!! The unmistakeable falling bomb whistle of a Sooty Owl, and not too far off either. With everything in readiness I attempted a somewhat pathetic imitation of the call we'd heard several times now. Well, it was getting on to the mating season after all and this partuicular owl must have been lookin' for lerve because in it came like a shot and landed in full view on a branch not 10 metres away. Without the spotlight we could even see it silhouetted against the night sky! A brilliant result and not one I'd expected to be so easy. Partly makes up for all the other unsuccessful attempts on what is essentially a very difficult species.