Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Phillip Island Sunday

Phillip Island is about an hour and a half south of Melbourne … which raises an interesting thought: I tend to measure travel distance in hours and minutes these days, rather than kilometres or miles. Hmm, I still use metres and kilometres for directions to birds though, for instance “1 km down that road take a left and stop 50 metres past the creek crossing”. Anyway, Phillip Island was perfect for a Sunday birding trip. The fog lifted, the sun came out and there was no wind. And all the rain we have had over the last year or so has changed it so much from when I was last there in ……. , heavens, my records say 2006 but surely it hasn’t been that long!
Rhyll foreshore at low tide

Anyway we arrived at Rhyll beach at absolute low tide and opened the thermos for a cup of tea, as you do. There was not much happening apart from a couple of Red-capped Plover, a few White-faced Herons and, of course, the Silver Gulls and people out for a Sunday walk, so we finished our cuppa and made for the lookout over Rhyll Inlet. This was much better with a few Eastern Curlew to watch, but sadly no Whimbrels. Then some more wakers appeared down on the sand-spit so we moved on.
Rhyll inlet from the lookout. The trees are slowly blocking the view

Next stop was the lookout at Conservation Hill Reserve where we found that the view over the top end of Rhyll Inlet and the swamps in the reserve had been improved with the unfortunate death of some of the trees at the lookout.

Then it was on to the cemetery where there is another wetland and a wooded hill. The best bird there was a Grey Currawong, but on the “cute meter” the winner was a beautiful Swamp Wallaby and her well-grown joey. The joey bolted for the bush as soon as we stopped but mum sat around and posed for photos, for which we thanked her before driving on.
Swamp Wallaby beside road to the cemetery

As it was now nearing lunchtime we pulled into the Swan Lake car park and wandered out to the hides before we ate. Now this was a major change. The lake is full and all the mud flats that we used to watch waders on are well under water. It was a beautiful sight and so wonderful to think that down here the drought is over, at least for this year.
Swan Lake with a Welcome Swallow checking for a nesting site
Swan Lake full of water, for a change

The Banksia are in bloom and the Little Wattlebirds where noisy, and everywhere.
Little Wattlebird

As we watched one bird feeding high on the outer edge of the tree a raptor called from above and the response from the Wattlebird was instant and very interesting. It “froze” in a twisted pose with all its feathers fluffed out. I wonder if it was a cryptic pose with the bird trying to mimic a dry Banksia flower? The colour of the bird, grey-brown with white flecking, and the shape it assumed made it look somewhat like one, and maybe just enough like one to fool a distant raptor?

I considered the possibility that the bird had just decided to warm itself in the sun but it didn't move slowly into the pose and shuffle its feathers as a bird starting to "sun" usually does. At the sound of the raptor cry the bird "snapped" to the position and froze. After about 3 minutes in the pose, and with no further raptor calls heard during this time, the bird flew down and into an adjoining Banksia.
Little Wattlebird "frozen" after the raptor called

From here we drove out to the Penguin colony and tourist complex at the end of the road and joined the hordes on the boardwalk. The penguins were nowhere to be seen but way out there was a raft of gulls feeding on a dead something, with one very large brown bird in the centre of the flock. After taking a bunch of photo and blowing them up as far as possible we could see that it was a Southern Giant Petrel, a nice addition to the day’s list. As we watched a Silver Gull started getting very upset with a passing juvenile Pacific Gull. It’s just a shame they were so far off because the Silver Gull was twisting itself into some very intricate poses.

Southern Giant Petrel feeding on dead something
Silver Gull in a heated dispute with an immature Pacific Gull
Even in calm weather the waves hitting the rock shelf are spectacular

All the old houses in the penguin colony area of the headland have now gone and in their place man-made penguin nesting boxes have been installed. There was no sign of penguins but the squatters have definitely moved in.
Man-made nesting boxes at an old house site with a "squatter"
Nest site with a view

With all the regular stops ticked off we turned and headed for home. We had one last pleasure in store though because beside the roundabout at the entry to the Penguin Parade building we came across these gorgeous young things, and they sent the “cute meter” to new levels.

Five fluff balls in a puddle
Just so cute with their little bandit masks
The family group

The Cape Barren Geese appear to have had a good few seasons as it seemed that every farm dam and every wetland had a resident pair. In fact all the birds were in good numbers and, without chasing numbers, we saw a total of 65 species on the island. There was nothing unexpected but the list included a nice flock of Common Greenfinch, calling and courting Swamp Harriers, Nankeen Kestrels in bright new plumage and Kelp Gulls along the cliffs.
Kelp Gull