Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Orbost to Cape Conran

Australia Day 2012 was in the last week before the Victorian schools went back and as it fell on a Thursday many people made it a long weekend away. For this reason we decided on a late start on the Thursday and a return on Saturday, to keep away from all the caravans and boats winding slowly back from east Gippsland on the Sunday.

And a beautiful weekend it was, despite not finding our target bird, Masked Owl, again. Pilotbirds were very busy and vocal around the West Cape boat launch but the surprise here was a Buff-banded Rail that jumped high above the heath, did a quick arc, just long enough for us to see it, before dropping back into the dense cover and out of sight.

The heath-land just on the east side of the Yeerung bridge seems to have lost its resident Ground Parrots but the Southern Emu-wrens were everywhere and very easy to see. It is also a great place for fly-over views as it is on a rise and the land to the west is lower, and to the south there is the sea. This time we had Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos, Little Ravens and Black Cormorants.
Southern Emu-wren

The Yeerung river is good for cormorants and the Black Cormorants we saw were shining in the sun with their yellow face patch positively glowing. The low gum trees along the edge of the heath gave us Crescent Honeyeaters, a young Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Supurb Fairy-wren, Eastern Yellow Robin, Striated Pardalote, Welcome Swallow, Yellow-faced Honeyeaters and Little Wattlebirds.
Eastern Yellow Robin with dinner

If you drive over the Yeerung River bridge you can continue on to the Old Coast Road and then back to the Cape Conran Road. This loop is always interesting and gave us Beautiful Firetail and Turquoise Parrot at a creek crossing.
Beautiful Firetail

One spot that can never be missed is the Cabbage Tree Palms Reserve. This area of Cabbage Palms and rainforest is totally alive with birds. On our night visit the resident Sooty Owls came and saw us and during the day Topknot Pigeons fed on the ripe palm fruit, Bassian Thrush scuttled down the road, Eastern Whipbirds called loudly and scrub-wrens, silvereyes, honeyeaters and fantails festooned the bracken and dense vines.
Topknot Pigeon

As we were intent on finding a Masked Owl we spent some 4 hours each night prowling the roads listening for a call. While we missed the MO we did get a major bonus. A pair of White-throated Nightjar were working one particular stretch of road and showed off beautifully by making three or four low level passes, flying straight down the road and over our heads.

There were not many White-throated Needletails around but we had about 6 flying west (19/01) while we were parked at the corner of the coast road and the Cape Conran Rd, 6 flying west while we were at the Yeerung ridge early on 20/01 and then again on 20/01 in the middle of the day there were at least 20 flying around while we were in the Cabbage Tree Palms reserve. These last ones were hard to count as we were watching them through gaps in the tall trees of the reserve.

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo

Sword-grass Brown Butterfly

Sacred Kingfisher

Bassian Thrush

1.5 metre Lace Monitor
East Gippsland and the coastal parks are one of my favourite places so it will be no hardship to go back and chase down the elusive Masked Owls, again.

Beginnings and Western Treatment Plant

A Beginning
Way back in the late 1950s I became aware of the birds in the family backyard and watched as the magpies enjoyed taking dust bathes and superb fairy-wrens darted through the tea-tree scrub. Then a neighbour took me to their front yard and showed me a tawny frogmouth. With my first view of this enigmatic bird I was hooked and began searching out the other birds in our back yard.

Family road trips during school holidays gained added interest as, armed with a copy of Alan and Shirley Bell's Some Common Australian Birds, I gave up playing "I spy" from the back seat of the car and started looking for and identifying the birds we passed or saw at our lunch stops. For my 12th birthday I received a copy of Cayley's "What Bird is That", and with this state of the art field guide I was away. I still have both these books and flicking through them now brings back many wonderful memories.

My interest continued and I went to my first BOCA meetings in Nicholas Hall in Lonsdale Street Melbourne in the early 1960s and eventually ended up on the conservation sub-committee in the early 1970s. From there my life took many turns, as all our lives do, and it wasn't until the late 1990s that I started serious birding again.

Serious maybe a small misnomer too as I met a wonderful friend who turned me into a manic birder and  revived my belief that birding can be both a wonderful reason to go to all the wild and beautiful places in Australia as well as a pastime that introduces one to all sorts of interesting, fun and knowledgeable people. I  have also found out, as I birded in the desert in 45º C + temperatures and in southern ocean storms that birding can often be classed as an extreme sport.

Over the last 10 years I have seen places in and around Australia I would never have expected to get to, all in the name of birding. I have found that good equipment is essential and that digital cameras mean that I can get back into the pleasure of taking photos. I have also found that I seem to "dip" on one bird each trip which means I always have a wonderful reason to go back to beautiful places.

Now, in 2012, I am tiptoeing into the 21st century and becoming slightly digitally aware. I am finding that I can combine all my interest in writing and photography, my love of travel, and my passion for birds into the new format of the online "blog". So here I go ....

My home patch
An introduction to my present birding life must be made somewhere so it may as well be at my local patch, the Western Sewage Treatment Plant (WTP).

View over settling pond to the You Yangs
Lake Borrie

The WTP is south of Melbourne on the west coast of Port Philip Bay and is built on an area of flat, basalt plain that was selected back in the 1850s as being a suitably distant place to send all the noisome sewage from the city of Melbourne. It is some 33 kms from the city and back when it was laid out it was way out in the remote country. Now it is a pleasant 1 hour’s drive down the freeway to Geelong.
Grassland looking to Port Philip Bay

A lot has changed over the years and the hundreds of settling ponds are now mostly disused and maintained purely as a RAMSAR wetlands for visiting waders. Some of these ponds are shallow to dry for use as a high tide roost for waders and others are deep and are a refuge for thousands of ducks and swans. Port Philip Bay has a very shallow edge along the WTP and at low tide sand banks extend out in places for some 100 metres, and in others there are rocky basalt outcrops and tidal swamps with low vegetation. West of the ponds are many acres of grassland for sheep and cattle and cultivated paddocks maintained by the state government. Overall, the protected area is approximately 20 kms north to south and 5.5 kms east to west.
Grasslands and Ryan's Lagoon

New Years day 2012 was in the 30º centigrade range in Melbourne but down by the bay it was only in the 20s. The birding during our visit was only average with the current specials, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper and Pectoral Sandpiper, all in hiding and not seen. We did, however, try and spice the day up a bit by trying to see 100 species in the day. We arrived at about 0800 and drove the tracks between the ponds until about 1600. We almost achieved our goal by getting to 94. On a hot day New Year's Day it was a good start to the year but totals of over 100 birds seen in a day are not uncommon. Bird list for a day at the WTP are often as high as 105 to 108 species.

Waders and Terns

Shelduck use the tracks to roost on

Pink-eared Ducks

Blue-billed Duck

Waders over the bay

"Conservation Pond" and waders
As the year goes on I will add more blogs of the trips that I and my friends do and to fill in a bit of background I will also add some recent past trips such as our trip to Macquarie Island. This was a once in a lifetime adventure with magnificent birds, storms and scenery.