Wednesday, February 29, 2012

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.

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