Thursday, 18 September 2014


My brother and I are cleaning out our parents' house in order for it to be sold.  If you've read my first book, How Many Birds is That? you may remember the first chapter, 'All Thanks to a Hooded Robin' which is about my parents' place and the wonderful birds I've seen there over the years.  They bought the property because of its bird life.

Last Wednesday morning, I was wiping down bookshelves and quite bored with the job.  My back was aching, I was alone and the task seemed endless.  Outside the sun was shining and the birds were singing.  A Grey Shrike-thrush and an Eastern Yellow Robin both did their best to entice me out into the sunshine.  A cup of coffee on the verandah watching White-browed Babblers play in the garden and Little Lorikeets flit overhead would surely do me good.  Wouldn't I return to my work with renewed vigour and work twice as well?  Stoically, I ignored the birds' invitation and kept working. Then I heard a Gilbert's Whistler.  He was very close.  I dropped my cloth and rushed outside.

Gilbert's Whistler at my parents' place
He was very beautiful.  He sat, singing, allowing me to enjoy his presence.  It seemed a long time since I'd been so close to a Gilbert's Whistler.

When my parents were alive, and I visited them regularly, my records show that I'd see Gilbert's Whistlers every month.  They nested in the garden each year.  If, on any occasion, I found I didn't have them on my birdlist, I'd go to the garage and slam the door.  The birds would dutifully call in response.  Sometimes my Dad could get them to call by clapping his hands.  I seem to remember that my claps were not quite loud enough.

I've seen them in South Australia a few times, but the last time I'd seen them in Victoria, was at my parents' place in August 2009, and here one was now right in the garden where he belonged.  That bird lifted my spirits enormously.  I returned to my cleaning with a happy heart, revitalized more than any caffeine boost could have done.

Thursday, 11 September 2014


Yesterday I spent an enjoyable half an hour at Trin Warren Tam-Bore, the manmade wetlands on the periphery of Royal Park, just outside central Melbourne.  It was cold and windy, yet I managed 21 species, the best being a Little Grassbird.

Dusky Moorhen
I was greeted by my favourite bird, a friendly Willie Wagtail, as I left the car park.  I walked around the pond, with free entertainment provided by the coots and moorhens on the water.  The Australasian Grebes were dressed in their breeding best, but I couldn't see any chicks.  Little Wattlebirds and a Horsfield Bronze-Cuckoo called simultaneously, and I was forced to make a quick decision about which one to go for.  I decided on the cuckoo, looked for it, dipped, and (naturally) the wattlebirds had stopped calling by then, so I dipped on them too.

Welcome Swallows performed impressive aerial acrobatics, while the New Holland Honeyeaters sat in the bushes, refusing to acknowledge the swallows' agility.  Swamphens strutted on the grass, ignoring me disdainfully.  There were fewer ducks than usual - I saw only Pacific Black Ducks and Grey Teals.

A pair of Magpie-larks duetted for me, while Rainbow Lorikeets and Red Wattlebirds added discordant squawks.

What better way to spend thirty minutes so close to town?

Saturday, 6 September 2014


Yesterday I spent a most enjoyable time at the You Yangs Regional Park (site 31).  A group of happy birders from Birds Australia gathers here quarterly to remove boneseed from the park, which makes us feel virtuous while we actually have a great time birdwatching.
The You Yangs are 55 kilometres south-west of Melbourne, off the Geelong Road, via the township of Little River and the birding can be great.
Eastern Yellow Robin, photo by Jim Smart
For some people yesterday the highlight was great views of Black-chinned Honeyeaters feeding in the flowering eucalypts.  For others, it was a small flock of Musk Lorikeets that posed perfectly in the sunshine.  For me, it was the Eastern Yellow Robin who came confidingly close to enjoy the titbits I'd unearthed while I pulled out boneseed.  When we arrived we were greeted by a Restless Flycatcher and a Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo.  Dusky Woodswallows flew overhead and we saw Little as well as Musk Lorikeets.  A Fantailed Cuckoo called constantly while we performed our gardening.
As well as birds, we saw platelets made by button-quail and admired a koala, a kangaroo and several greenhood orchids.  Something for everyone, wouldn't you say?

Tuesday, 2 September 2014


All the text books agree that Little Ravens are mostly insectivorous. If you see a Little Raven beside roadkill, it is more likely to be snapping at the flies attracted to the body, rather than eating the carrion itself.

Little Ravens in the suburbs have learnt to scavenge

However, they are opportunistic feeders, and will scavenge anything that is convenient. And they certainly will eat carrion if they are hungry enough.

I live in a Melbourne suburb which has a large population of possums, both brush-tail and ringtail. For some reason, the ringtails are often killed on the electricity wires, although I don't remember ever seeing a brush-tail apparently killed in this manner.

Last week, I saw a dead ringtail under the wires, while a couple of Little Ravens sat on the wires above communicating with each other. They ignored the free food below. I was interested to see if the ravens would eat the possum.

They must be well fed, for the dead possum did not attract them at all. It lay there for some days, until I assume one of my neighbours removed it. This is only an assumption, as I did not witness what happened to the possum. What I can say with conviction is that the Little Ravens ignored the dead body for several days.

Sunday, 31 August 2014


Tawny Frogmouth - a bird I did not see in August
It is spring at last and I can say goodbye to August, always one of my worst months for birding.  It's not that the cold Melbourne weather keeps me inside and not looking, it's just that I never see much during the month of August.

I am unashamedly, not only a twitcher, but also a lister.  Some birders regard both these words as derogatory, but I see nothing wrong with admitting that I am both these things.  Of course I always want to see as many species as possible, and I keep lists to record what I see.  Why find fault with that?

This means I know what a dreadful record I have during past Augusts.

I have modest aims.  I try to see 100 species every month.  Usually this is easy, but not in August.  This month just gone, August 2014, I saw only 86 species.  Yet I visited the Western Treatment Plant at Werribee, Bendigo, Karkarook and Blackburn Lake.  Better birders than I would see 100 species at Werribee alone.  In my defence, I should point out that I was not alone when I visited Werribee, and was therefore constrained by my companions.  I was most frustrated when I couldn't stop to identify waders, and had to keep up with the others.  We did see Brolgas, always a highlight.  In total, I managed just 61 species on my trip to Werribee.

There wasn't much around at Bendigo, although I saw Spiny-cheeked and White-eared Honeyeaters.  This latter bird is my second favourite honeyeater - my favourite being the demure little Brown-headed.

At Karkarook (as I previously reported) I saw Blue-billed Duck, but not much else.

I walked around Blackburn Lake last Friday with my cousin.  First, we visited a couple of Tawny Frogmouth roosts, in the hope of adding this bird to my monthly list.  It was not to be.  The only bird of note that I did add to my list, was a Nankeen Night-Heron, all decked out in his breeding best, looking most splendid.  Sadly, he seemed to be alone.

So I'm pleased that August is behind me, although by any standards, Brolgas, Blue-billed Ducks and Nankeen Night-Herons are all good birds.

Bring on September!  I should have no trouble at all in seeing my target 100 species, even without a trip to Werribee.  Let's see how I go.

Friday, 22 August 2014


Yesterday I visited Karkarook, the site that I just couldn't squeeze into my top 100 birding sites.  I like to go there on 1 January to get Blue-billed Duck onto my annual list.  It is a very pleasant spot, very popular with joggers and dog walkers, but notwithstanding all the people, the birding is often quite good.  Twice to my knowledge, Little Bitterns have turned up there.

There is a bird hide, but it is one of those noisy ones that frighten every bird within a hundred metres when you open the door.  I go to the hide, but I never go in.  The view is just as good from outside.

There are often Hoary-headed Grebes at Karkarook, and usually Greenfinch.  I saw several hoary-heads yesterday, but alas! no Greenfinch.  That might be the first time I've been there and not seen or heard these exotic finches.  I'm pleased to say that the Blue-billed Ducks didn't let me down.

One dog walker noticed my binoculars and asked me to identify the beautiful little blue bird she was admiring.  It was a male Superb Fairy-wren, at his breeding best.  

The sun was shining, the birds were singing, it was altogether a glorious day.   Melbourne is lucky to have so many pleasant parks.  No wonder we are the world's most livable city.

Monday, 18 August 2014


I live in suburban Kew.  My usual morning walk is to the east, away from the city.  I always see Rainbow Lorikeets (our most common bird), Australian Magpies, Little Ravens (that nest at the end of our street), Red Wattlebirds and, unfortunately, Spotted Doves.  I usually see Magpie-larks and Common Mynas.  I often see Grey Butcherbirds, Brown Thornbills, Common Starlings and Feral Pigeons. I am seeing Noisy Miners more and more frequently.  They are newcomers, along with Pied Currawongs and Little Corellas, while we have lost White-plumed Honeyeaters, which used to be common.  I sometimes hear Spotted Pardalotes, but I don't always see them.

This morning, I walked to the west, towards the city.  I was surprised at how different the birds were.  I've always known that if I want to see Little Wattlebirds, I should head west, not east, but the entire birdlife was different this morning.  There were Crested Pigeons, Long-billed Corellas and Welcome Swallows in the corner park.  Noisy Miners were bombing the corellas.  I used to see Eastern Rosellas here, but it's been a long time since I last saw one.  Sulphur-crested Cockatoos squawked overhead, and I thought I was going to miss out on my usually common Rainbow Lorikeets, until they put in an appearance just as I arrived home.  I saw Silver Gulls flying overhead too, but not a hint of butcherbirds anywhere.  I also dipped on magpies and Red Wattlebirds, but I saw lots of Spotted Doves, several Common Mynas, and one Common Blackbird.

I really would not have thought that the birdlife could be so different, walking in different directions from my home.  I will have to be more adventurous in future, and try other directions too.  I've been walking east for many years, and think I know the birds well on that route, but who knows what I might find if I venture north?