On Saturday I went to the You Yangs to pull out boneseed. The weather was perfect, the company was convivial and the birds were wonderful, as usual. The You Yangs Regional Park is number 31 on my Best 100 Birdwatching Sites in Australia, and the birding is great. We go to the You Yangs once a quarter, so birders have usually done some interesting trips between visits, and I enjoy the birdy gossip as much as the birds.
Boneseed is an invasive weed from South Africa and these outings are arranged by BirdLife Australia to keep our allocated patch boneseed free.
The You Yangs Regional Park is 55 kilometres south-west of Melbourne off the Geelong Road via the township of Little River. It is dry eucalypt woodland, with several small dams, so the birdlist features bush birds and waterbirds.
We start the day birding around the car park, then go to Gravel Pit Tor. We have lunch at a picnic table beside a small waterhole, then do some more birding around that site. In the early afternoon we pull out some boneseed, then finish the day with more birding at East Flat. It's obvious that the weeding is just an excuse for our primary activity: birding.
The You Yangs are famous for Tawny Frogmouths and, in autumn and winter, Swift Parrots. We didn't see any frogmouths on Saturday. The resident pair, usually seen around the park office, have not been seen for some weeks. I expect they'll return one day. I hope it's in time for our next excursion in March 2014.
The birdlist for the day is usually quite impressive. My personal list is always much smaller. I thought the best birds on Saturday were the Brown-headed and Black-chinned Honeyeaters together with (most unusually, just one) Varied Sittella. A pair of Scarlet Robins provided much pleasure and Rufous Whistlers entertained us all day. While I was boneseeding, I was serenaded by Yellow Robins, Olive-backed Orioles and Fantailed Cuckoos. It was difficult not to knock off work and look at the birds, but I always leave my binoculars in the car when we set to work, to lessen the temptation.
Raptors can be quite good at the You Yangs, but the only one I identified with confidence on Saturday was a wedgie. He soared over us while we were having lunch, reminding us it was time to stop feeding our faces and go birding.
Anyone is welcome to join us at the You Yangs on the first Saturday of March, June, September and December. All you need to bring is lunch, binoculars and enthusiasm!
Friday, 22 November 2013
Rog and I spent a lovely day in Chiltern this week. It was our seventh trip this year, so I wasn't expecting any surprises. But, while the media is celebrating anniversaries (JFK's assassination, fifty years of Dr Who) I am rejoicing in a remarkable collection of firsts. It rained all morning, but still we had some great sightings. Chiltern never lets me down!
This was the first time that I witnessed Painted Honeyeaters at Lappin's Dam in the Chiltern/Mt Pilot National Park. Painted Honeyeaters are becoming more easily seen around Chiltern and are now just about guaranteed at Bartley's Block over summer.
This was the first time I'd seen Diamond Firetails at No 2 Dam. Firetails, too, are becoming more easily seen around Chiltern. I've often seen them at No 1 Dam and I've seen them several times in Rutherglen at the ephemeral swamp and around the gate entering Lake Moodemere.
This was the first time I'd seen Great Crested Grebe at No 2 Dam.
This was the first time I'd seen White-throated Gerygones at Cyanide Dam.
This was the first ever Black-eared Cuckoo I've seen anywhere in Chiltern. It, too, was at No 2 Dam.
This was the first time I'd witnessed a Rufous Songlark doing a whisper call. It was a female and she had a large insect in her beak. She was making a very quiet rattle call.
This was the first time I'd heard a Satin Bowerbird making a downward whistle, ending in a harsh squawk. This was the first time I'd seen Satin Bowerbirds in Chiltern/Mt Pilot National Park. I am familiar with Satin Bowerbirds and thought I knew their calls, but this whistle was different. It was extremely loud, and slightly reminiscent of the Sooty Owl's falling bomb call.
This was the first time I'd ever seen a white wallaby in Victoria. I say white, not albino, as it had black eyes. It was at Cyanide Dam in the Honeyeater Picnic Area. The only other place I've ever seen white wallabies is in captivity in Bordertown, South Australia.
And, one last record, which wasn't a first but a second. This was just the second time I've seen Leaden Flycatchers in Chiltern. They were near Cyanide Dam. I believe that the first time was last summer. It would be nice to think that Leaden Flycatchers, along with Painted Honeyeaters and Diamond Firetails, are becoming more common around Chiltern.
In my book 'Best 100 Birdwatching Sites in Australia' I list Chiltern as number 5. Sites 1-4 offer seabirds and waders. (They are Broome, Werribee, Cairns and Macquarie Island.) I believe Chiltern really is the top spot for bush birds. It is true: Chiltern never lets me down!
Tuesday, 19 November 2013
I flew to Cairns on Sunday (and a very noisy uncomfortable flight it was) and had time for a quick wander up the Esplanade in the afternoon. I managed 35 species before the heat sent me back to my cool hotel room. The tide was a long way out and a scope would have been handy. However, there was plenty to see close to the boardwalk, mainly plovers and sandpipers, but also a Grey-tailed Tattler, several Eastern Curlews and one or two Whimbrels. I saw only Bar-tailed Godwits (no Black-taileds today), plenty of Red-necked Stints and a few Gull-billed Terns. The plovers included Pacific Golden, Lesser Sand, Greater Sand, and Red-capped and the Sandpipers were Marsh, Terek, Sharp-tailed and Curlew. I walked along the Esplanade until I saw a Nutmeg Mannikin, then I turned back. Along the way there were Rainbow Bee-eaters and my favourite woodswallows, White-breasted, to entertain me. At one spot, I found I was nearly stepping on Peaceful Doves. They are much smaller here than the ones I am used to in the south. I counted 14 walking on the pavement at my feet, and I could hear others calling in the trees above.
Thanks to Martin Cachard, I have now decreased my list of bogey birds by one. On Monday he showed me the beautiful Black-winged Monarch, a bird I had feared I would never see. Over the years, I have visited the tip of Cape York twice and Iron Range once, and always dipped on this elusive bird. Thank you, Martin! And a big 'thank you' to Judy Leitch too, who organized the trip. Sine qua non.
McIvor River, far north Queensland
It was an early start the next morning. Judy and I drove to Smithfield, where Martin picked us up at 4.15. It was a pleasant drive north, watching the huge golden moon set. We arrived at McIvor River at 9.30 and saw our first Black-winged Monarch at 9.40. Howzat! It was a female, and the silvery grey of her plumage was perfect. Not long later we watched a male sing to us. He, too, had beautiful grey plumage. However, his wings were not as black as I'd expected and I was disappointed that his chestnut breast was not as bright as I'd thought it would be. Poor bird, to be judged by my uneducated expectations! To be honest, I would not have cared what he looked like, I was simply delighted to see a bird that I'd been trying to see for decades.
|Rufous Owl - Photo: Judy Leitch|
Sunday, 20 October 2013
|Setting off with my guide, Duncan.|
I wrote here last July that I was hoping to cross the Rufous Scrub-bird off my list of bogey birds in October, when I had arranged a professional guide to show me one in Lamington National Park.
Rog and I are now back from our trip to Queensland. We drove around 4,000 kilometres and saw 171 bird species. Sadly, this did not include that reprobate, the Rufous Scrub-bird. We saw an echidna, many kangaroos, wallabies and pademelons, a huge colony of fruit bats at Casino, just one Long-nosed Bandicoot at Beechworth on the way home and lots of lizards and lace monitors. The wildflowers were wonderful - white and yellow and pink and purple. There were orchids and grevilleas, candles and sundews, fringe lillies and junceas.
We took a week to drive from Melbourne to O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat in Lamington National Park situated in Queensland just north of the New South Wales border. We spent three days at O'Reilly's, then took another week to drive home. Along the way we visited many of my favourite birding spots - and found some new ones.
Of course we called into Chiltern on the way. At Bartley's Block I saw Brown-headed Honeyeaters, Dusky, Masked and White-browed Woodswallows and a very vocal Sacred Kingfisher - the first of many for the trip. I also met a keen young birder visiting Bartley's for the first time. He wanted to see a Turquoise Parrot, a Painted Button-quail and a Painted Honeyeater. Knowledgeably, I said he had a good chance of the parrot, and that the button-quail was more likely along All Nations Road or Bull Ant Track near the cemetery, although it had been some time since I'd seen one. Then, trying not to disappoint him too cruelly, I suggested that he'd have a better chance of seeing the honeyeater at Melville's Caves near Inglewood. He smiled politely and pointed out an oriole I'd been trying to see. I thanked him and moved on. Within seconds he called me back to share wonderfully close views of a Painted Honeyeater sitting obligingly in a leafless fruit tree. You could call it beginner's luck, but perhaps it was just superior birding. Whatever it was, I do hope he was equally successful with his parrot and his button-quail.
The next day we visited three of my top 100 birding sites: Wonga Wetlands, The Rock and Cootamundra. Regrettably, my outstanding memory of that visit to Wonga Wetlands was being dive bombed by two (yes, two at once) very determined magpies. All that was noteworthy at The Rock was a pair of Shing Bronze-Cuckoos. (We called at The Rock again on the way home and I had four Speckled Warblers foraging at my feet, quite unperturbed at my presence.) On our way to O'Reilly's, birds were quiet, too, at Migurra Walk, althought the pink kunzea was flowering profusely. (Again, the story was better on our way home when Superb Parrots took over. One sat in front of me on a dead branch quite aware of how handsome he was. With the blue sky behind him and the sun shining happily, it would have made a beautiful photo - if only I'd had a camera. There were also Western Gerygones and Weebills and several Rufous Whistlers.)
We stayed at Coonabarabran because we wanted to visit the Warrumbungles, which I thought were recovering well from last January's bushfires. I was sorry to see goats wandering at liberty. I would have thought that the fire was a great opportunity to rid the national park of these feral pests. The tourist literature informed me that 'Coonabarabran' means 'inquisitive person' in the local Gamilraay language. It failed to explain why the town deserved this epithet.
Eight kilometres north of Gilgandra we discovered a beautifully maintained flora reserve, in its prime, with everything flowering. We were greeted by a single male Red-capped Robin and a party of gregarious Apostlebirds. Here we saw Buff-rumped and Inland Thornbills, while Rainbow Bee-eaters cavorted overhead.
Driving from Tamworth to Tenterfield we stopped at Guyra for coffee, attracted by the sign to Mother Ducks Lagoon. Here the signs (if not the birds) were exceptionally good and we decided to visit the nearby Ramsar site, Little Llangothlin Wildlife Reserve. Here we saw Freckled Duck and Brown Quail and vowed to return on another occasion when we had time to undertake the five kilometre circuit of the lake. Apparently walkers must be prepared to get wet feet.
Then it was on to O'Reilly's and the great Rufous Scrub-bird hunt. My guide was Duncan, O'Reilly's resident scrub-bird expert. We left at 8 in the morning and walked all day, returning (in the pitch dark) after 6. I was exhausted. Duncan is like the Everready pink bunny - he goes forever. Duncan, who has hearing like Radar O'Reilly, heard three scrub-birds but we had no luck in enticing them into view. The scrub-birds Duncan heard were mimicking other birds, not doing the call I'd heard on previous occasions. The reason I'd chosen October to visit O'Reilly's was that I believed the scrub-birds would be at their most vocal at this time. They were not. Given that they were not giving their territorial call, in retrospect I think my chances of seeing one were pretty slim.
I did see Noisy Pitta, Black-faced Monarch, Green Catbird, Logrunner and Brown Cuckoo-Dove, but they did not compensate for the missing tick I'd driven to Queensland to see. I've looked for this devilish scrub-bird on six previous occasions - twice previously at all three sites - O'Reilly's, Binna Burra and Gloucester Tops, most recently spending three days exploring known territories at Gloucester Tops in April this year. It was then I decided I'd never see this bird without professional help. Now I have failed impressively, notwithstanding professional help!
Not even the gorgeous male Regent Bowerbirds could raise my spirits the next day. My mood did not improve when I failed to see both Russet-tailed Thrush and Paradise Riflebird on the track to the villas (at the bottom of the zigzags) where Duncan said they resided. Not even the Albert's Lyrebird could cheer me up.
I confess a Southern Boobook after tea did make me smile, but by then I'd been mellowed by a glass or two of local wine.
We drove home, following almost the same route, but staying at Dubbo so we could visit the Macquarie Marshes, Much of the marshes was dry, which was disappointing and at the northern section, we were greeted by a locked gate! As I had collected a welcoming brochure at the Information Centre, I had not expected to be stymied by a padlock.
Our trip to Queensland had just one aim. In that I failed. How can I be anything but disappointed? We did have a pleasant trip. The wildflowers were universally impressive. The birds were often very good. The scenery was sometimes spectacular. The best panglossian spin I can come up with is, now I have an excuse to do it all again. (But I wish I didn't.)
Saturday, 28 September 2013
Here it is! My new book. It's due in the bookshops on Tuesday. You can get a special deal by buying it here: www.newsouthbooks.com.au/isbn/9781742233680specd.htm I hope you like it! And I should thank all the wonderful photographers who helped make it look so good. Not forgetting NewSouth who've done such a great job in producing it so well.
This really would make a great Christmas present.
This really would make a great Christmas present.
Friday, 20 September 2013
|Pacific Black Duck, taken by Jim Smart|
I hadn't been to Trin Warren Tam-Boore since March, so I thought it was time for another visit. This artificial wetlands in Melbourne's magnificent Royal Park, so close to the city centre, is usually a pleasant spot to spend some time. I was there for just 45 minutes. The weather was cloudy and far from perfect, yet I managed to record 28 species. That's not bad.
I had actually made a fleeting visit to this spot the week before, and heard a Horsfield Bronze-Cuckoo. He was sitting high in a leafless deciduous tree, but despite the bare branches, he still took some finding. I don't believe I've ever seen a bronze-cuckoo in Royal Park before. My records for this site are not extensive, but I did live in Parkville for ten years, so I have strolled through the area many times.
On this visit, I was delighted to hear him again. I also heard a Little Grassbird, which is not unusual for this site. And I heard a Grey Shrike-thrush, which is called by some, rather unkindly, a 'GST.' Why should such a glorious songster get a nickname with political overtones?
The other birds I saw were all predictable. My favourite bird, the Willie Wagtail, is always present here. So are our common gallinules (coots, swamphens and moorhens). The reliable ducks are Pacific Black Duck, Australian Wood Duck and Chestnut Teal. (There is a rather optimisitc illustration of a Blue-billed Duck next to the 'bird hide' but I doubt the water is ever deep enough here for this species.) There are usually feral and Crested Pigeons, as well as Spotted Doves, and always Silver Gulls. Common Blackbirds are just that, as are Magpie-Larks and Superb Fairy-wrens. Welcome Swallows are guaranteed.
The most common honeyeater is the White-plumed, followed closely by Red Wattlebirds. New Holland Honeyeaters are prolific too, as are Noisy Miners. Little Wattlebirds are not quite so reliable.
I walked around the pond on the other side of the road and here I saw an Eastern Great Egret foraging at the edge of the water. There were also Red-browed Finches and White-browed Scrubwrens.
Altogether, a very pleasant forty-five minutes.
Friday, 13 September 2013
|Brush-tailed Possum, note Pied Currawong's tail above|
The Pied Currawongs and Noisy Miners were being unusually vocal this morning. The currawongs are nesting but I have not been able to discover where. I've noticed them breaking off live twigs from the silver birches next door and flying off with them. I have not observed the miners and currawongs interacting before.
A glance out the window explained the excitement. In broad daylight, a normally nocturnal brush-tailed possum was sitting in my oak tree, apparently alert, being bombed by the currawongs, who were, in turn, being bombed by the miners. I have to assume that there was something wrong with the possum, or he would be sleeping in his drey, not active during the daytime. However, as far as I could tell, he was fine. He could certainly run up the tree quite fast. Yet, he chose not to return to the safety of his drey. He is still high in the tree as I write and the currawongs are calling constantly.
Many Melburnians dislike our possums. Here we have both brush-tailed and ring-tailed and they're both undeniably very cute. They can make a mess on the paving and apparently they like to eat roses. If you chose to grow roses, I'm sure you can share a few with our native wildlife. I'm on the side of the possums.
Only once has a possum irritated me mildly. Someone forgot to close the flue on our chimney. (It wasn't me!) A possum fell into the ashes in the fireplace, got such a fright that he urinated, then proceed to leave sweet little black footprints all over my beige curtains. He celebrated, too, in my kitchen, creating quite a bit of havoc for one small marsupial. We found him the next morning, asleep, behind the couch. A very cute little ring-tail. He was taken outside, where I hope he was reunited with his family. No one has forgotten to close the flue since.
The currawongs are still calling outside, but I can no longer see the possum. I do hope he is safe.