8th March, 2009 - Today's trip saw us heading down to Edward Point Faunal Reserve on the north side of Swan Bay on the Bellarine Peninsula, basically to see what waders were about. Due to limited time we couldn't coincide our arrival with low tide, so when we got there there were no exposed areas of mud to speak of and little in the way of wader activity. There was, however, a good number of Greenshank seen roosting behind the high tide line, and some of these were well into attaining their handsome breeding plumage. A small number of Red-necked Stint were kicking around too, including a bird found on the beach that appeared to be exhausted, allowing me to pick it up without struggle. So tiny, warm and light. It is almost incomprehensible that this frail little package is capable of such immense energy and endurance. Pure driven instinct compels this bird to traverse tens of thousands of kilometers biannually, seemingly with the odds well and truly against it, in order to procreate and simply survive. You can actually feel that coursing through its little body, its life-force which is so diminutive yet so significant.
Elsewhere in the coastal scrub were some Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters and Little Wattlebirds, Yellow Thornbill, a lone Rufous Whistler and Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoos feeding in nearby pines. On the way home a sideways diversion landed us at Pt Lonsdale Lighthouse with a view to quickly check seabirding conditions. In the space of around half an hour 2 Arctic Jaegers were seen flying out of Port Phillip Bay through the Heads, one dark and one light phase, as well as a single Shy Albatross way offshore and several Short-tailed Shearwaters arcing about. Nice, but not quite the same as a couple of days I had here last winter when after some heavy weather hundreds of prions were present, mainly unidentifiable and well offshore, although many Fairy Prions and one Slender-billed Prion approached close enough to be identified. I also had Common Diving-petrels, Hutton's and Fluttering Shearwaters, Fairy Penguins, Shy Albatross (including one juvenile that appeared to show characteristics of race salvini), Black-browed Albatross, Brown Skua and a constant stream of White-fronted Terns. Bodes well for this winter...
16th March, 2009 - On this clarion afternoon I verily took it upon myself to skirt known haunts in a brazen attempt to build as impressive and multifarious a list as I could in my allotted time (3 hours). The City of Hobsons Bay was to set the scene for my mini twitch. After visiting a few spots I hit the coast, whereupon the thirst for my quest rapidly ebbed away as I witnessed the scene that lay before me. There was as large a number of Short-tailed Shearwater that I have ever seen in Port Phillip Bay. Birds stretched out to the horizon from as close as 200 or so metres from shore to distant dots, recognizable only by their flight behaviour. One large flock was feeding manically with Australasian Gannets, Crested and Common terns, Pacific and Silver Gulls, and Pied, Little Pied and Little Black Cormorants. Possibly a big bait ball had attracted these bird's attentions. By the time I had driven up the coast as far as Battery Point in Williamstown, witnessing shearwaters as I went at each accessible coastal location, I reckon I'd seen at least 1200. Pretty impressive sight. Along the way I also saw an Arctic Jaeger actively pirating Silver Gulls, and 5 Sooty Oystercatchers on the rocks.
20th March, 2009 - A crisp and sunny day it was, and deciding that this should also be my outlook for today, Robyn Ginsburg and I headed off to track down some of this country's more colorful birds in the form of cockatoos, parrots and lorikeets. Robyn was over here in Oz on a quickstop tour of Melbourne and Sydney - 5 days in total, and being from the United States was really keen to see these birds, stating that there was really nothing like them at home, which was Las Vegas at the time. I argued that a Greater Roadrunner, Eared Trogon or even a Gilded Flicker would be far better eye candy than say a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo or juvenile Crimson Rosella, but Robyn didn't agree. So, not wanting to upset the status quo, we set off on our quest. Soon we indeed were looking at Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and juvenile Crimson Rosellas, as well as adult Crimson Rosellas, Red-rumped Parrots, Long-billed Corellas, Galahs, Purple-crowned, Little and Musk Lorikeets, Eastern Rosellas, as well as Zebra Finch, Scarlet Robin and Superb Fairy-wren. Robyn absorbed all of these birds with their various outrageous color schemes and was clearly rapt, and funnily enough the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo was her bird of the day. She thought they were just incredible!
Which goes to show that sometimes I take the birds in my own backyard for granted, which I feel a little bit guilty about and try not to do. So even though it'd be great to see an Eared Trogon, it wouldn't quite cut it next to an adult Eastern Rosella sitting in the sun.
It's around this time of year that the seasons take a noticeable turn, and bird activity changes. There are still some of the summer migrants about, but most have finished breeding and begun their northern migration. Species like Rufous Fantail and Satin Flycatcher are largely silent as they are no longer advertising territories, and seem to melt away from their regular summer haunts. It's now (March, April, May) that these sorts of birds turn up in odd places, like inner-city Melbourne gardens or coastal scrub, as they wend their long way north.
You can also expect to see migratory waders on the mudflats and swamps surrounding Port Phillip and Westernport Bays moulting into their pre-breeding plumage just before they head off to begin their nuptials.
As the weather cools we begin to notice some altitudinal migration taking place, that is, some of the bird species that have bred in the high country like the Otway Ranges or Upper Yarra Ranges, such as Flame & Pink Robins, start dispersing to lower areas like farmland, open woodland, suburban areas and coastal vegetation to spend the non-breeding months, purely because their nesting grounds become too cold. During this period it is possible to see up to four different types of robin in any one location.
Birds like Spiny-cheeked, Fuscous & Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters move toward the coast from inland, and Yellow-faced & White-naped Honeyeaters move north en masse in sometimes spectacular fashion. This was evident in autumn 2008, when huge waves of Yellow-faced and White-naped Honeyeaters, along with countless Silvereyes, moved north-east along the Surf Coast south-west of Melbourne, and were particularly spectacular at Pt Addis, near Bells Beach, where many thousands rested briefly in the coastal scrub on the headland before heading off again. The resident Peregrine Falcons were loving life in those few weeks!
Autumn is also a good time for nectar-feeding parrots. From February onwards large numbers of Musk Lorikeets move into the Melbourne area, and with them come lesser numbers of Little and Purple-crowned Lorikeets. Melbourne is blessed in a way with a multitude of various eucalypt species planted in its parks and on nature-strips , and a majority of them flower at this time. It's these that the lorikeets go for, and 2009 has been no exception. The Yellow Gums, Eucalyptus leucoxylonhave flowered especially well this year and the Musk Lorikeets are taking full advantage.
Swift Parrots on passage from Tasmania may also augment the flocks of lorikeets, often dropping in for a re-fuel on their way north.
Basically, the post-summer period can see anything turn up around Melbourne, and it's personally my favorite time of year.
25th March, 2009 - I took my daughter Wren to the Melbourne Zoological Gardens today for a wander around, her first time there. She loved it, and so did I, not least because she's now old enough (two and a half) to really enjoy the animals, but because even when you're not birding, you're still birding! I couldn't help noticing there was a Rufous Fantail on passage near the rufous-looking Orang-utans, as well as several Grey Fantails also on passage, an Eastern Spinebill, lots of Nankeen Night-herons, a big flock of Pied Currawongs and even a Brown Goshawk overhead. The best bit was Wren pointing to and quite expertly enunciating "Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove" to a complete stranger who was standing nearby. (Editor's note: this was not a wild bird, but a captive individual in the Butterfly House).
March-April, 2009 - A few regular rounds of my local area(Hobsons Bay) in March and April have resulted in a handful of nice sightings, mostly in the form of passage migrants, both regular and quite unusual for the area. Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters and Grey Fantails have made their presence known throughout, with good numbers passing through. Newport Lakes and Altona Coastal Park have had up to a dozen fantails in early April. Double-banded Plovers have returned from New Zealand to winter at the mouth of Laverton Creek and adjacent Cheetham Wetlands in Altona, while any Red-necked Stints seen here toward the end of April are mostly gangs of first-year birds that will stay here all winter. Up to a dozen Common Terns have been frequenting rocky sections of shoreline around Seaholme and Pt Gellibrand in Williamstown, and some of the late stayers have donned their subtle but beautiful breeding plumage with delicate white tail streamers. Small numbers of Yellow-faced & White-naped and even a single Fuscous Honeyeater dropped in to Newport Lakes Reserve during April. Migrating Swift Parrots were heard and seen very briefly on two occasions as they flew high overhead toward more nectary pastures. Blue-winged Parrots too were noted as fly-throughs twice. Flame Robins are back and it's great to see the odd flash of brilliant red in paddocks, parks and backblocks around the district. Two Painted Button-quail dropped into Newport Lakes Park sometime around the 16th April, and stayed for a few days at least. This coincides with a spate of other sightings around suburban Melbourne during this period, so they are obviously on the move. This was a species I'd always half-expected to see at Newport Lakes one day so I was pretty stoked. Other birds quite unusual to the area in April included a sighting of a wayward Pied Currawong along Kororoit Creek in Altona North, small numbers of Fairy Terns along the coast, one or two White-bellied Sea-eagles also patrolling the coastline, and a Stubble Quail in parkland at Newport Lakes, although I have my suspicions this may have been an aviary escapee as it was relatively tame.