Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Australia Day 2013, Orbost and a Big Tick

What does one do on the Australia Day Weekend? Wave a flag and march? Naaah. Go to the Tennis? Naaah. Go birding? YES, of course. 

And one of the most pleasant places to go is Croajingolong Park in east Gippsland. And one of the easiest access points from Melbourne is the Cape Conran/Yeerung River area. There is good accommodation at the Countryman Motel in Orbost and from there one can explore the mouth of the Snowy River at Marlo, Cabbage Tree Reserve, the rocky coast at Cape Conran and other access points, the Yeerung River and the heathlands along the Old Coast Road. Our best year, in 2009, gave us 111 species for the weekend and this year we saw 105.
Road into Cabbage Tree reserve
And it is not only quantity, but quality. Where else can one find shearwaters, albatross and other ocean birds, Turquoise Parrots, Southern Emu-wren, Ground Parrot, Square-tailed Kite, Masked Owl, Sooty Owl and many dozens of bush birds; all within an hours drive of your bed?
Two Turquoise Parrots
Part of the fun is working out routes and times. Early is best for the Yeerung Bridge and the Southern Emu-wrens but low tide is best for the Snowy River mouth. Very late is best for the owls and nightjars and the middle of the day is best at Cabbage Tree reserve, because there are picnic tables and lunch can be eaten while surrounded by Large-billed Scrub-wrens, Topknot Pigeons, Lyrebirds, Scarlet Honeyeaters and Rufous Fantails.
Rufous Fantail at Cabbage Tree Reserve
This year Joy and I started the year well by breaking through 100 species on 1st January at the WTP. With this brilliant start we decided to try for 200 species before the end of January. Why not, a bit of a challenge adds spice to the enjoyment of seeing beautiful birds (smile). By the time we left Orbost I had my 200 and Joy just needed a couple more, which on 30/1 she now has. Our next target is 250 by the end of March.
Brown Gerygone at Cabbage Tree reserve
The main purpose of this Australia Day weekend trip, however, was to find a Masked Owl. Back in October 2008 four of us were on a major trip up the east coast to see all the birds we could. Of course, when we got to Kingfisher Park we duly ticked of the Masked Owl that came out at dusk each night. Easy! Then, 2 years later in Sept 2010, came the report that that particular masked Owl was actually a Barn owl. Bother! So, open the Excel file, highlight Masked Owl, hit delete, and back to the hunt. Sigh. But that is one of the joys of birding, one has to be honest with oneself.
Bassian Thrush near Yeerung Bridge
But losing that particular bird was a bit annoying because I don’t enjoy driving country roads alone at night while spotlighting over farmer’s sheep paddocks, they can get angry – the farmers, that is. Nor do I enjoy going down dirt roads alone in the dark, who knows what sort of boogy-man is just around the corner with a loaded chain saw? So after the delete button was hit I have spent the last 2 ½ years searching around Eaglehawk neck in southern Tasmania and cruising the back roads south-east of Orbost, with friends.
Beautiful Firetail near Yeerung Bridge
We have heard the bird call a few times and I have emailed friends and contacts seeking out all the latest information. People replied, “It’s easy. Stop here, play tape, bird will arrive” or “They are common just north of the intersection” or “We saw three last weekend” Sigh. Not for me, a bogy bird is a bogy bird is a bogy bird.
Collared Sparrowhawk at Cabbage Tree Reserve. There was a family of three.
Then Tim McKellar put a sighting on Birdata. Armed with this new info Joy and I headed for Orbost. On Saturday night it was overcast and a violent thunderstorm had just gone through. I guess rain and forked lightning is not good for owling ‘cos we tried a string of locations, including Tim’s, and didn’t see any. Sunday night was better with a full moon and 50% overcast. We tried the same locations again, and this time Tim’s came good. Ten seconds of playback and the Masked Owl alighted on a dead branch 3 metres above our heads. And it was a truly beautiful bird, definitely my new most favourite owl in the whole world. I am still smiling.
Yes, it is out of focus - but I am more than pleased to have it.
Joy must have known the bogy-owl was going to finally give itself up because she had bought 2 single drink bottles of bubbly at the pub when we had dinner. We opened the car fridge and toasted the owl. Not only was it a new bird for both of us but for me it was my 400th species in Victoria and the last tick I can get in Victoria, other than future vagrants.

The rest of the weekend wasn’t too shabby either. We had our second Square-tailed Kite for the year, and then Joy stopped the car right where a male Emu-wren was waiting to jump out and wave at us. Then two Turquoise Parrots flew up from the road and perched in the sun. Enough to say, the weekend was a roaring success. We saw over 100 species including Beautiful Firetail, Bassian Thrush, White-throated Needletail, Rufous Fantail, Large-billed Scrubwren, Brown Gerygone and lots of other delightful birds.
Southern Emu-wren on Old Coast Road
And to top it off, an Australian Sea Lion was resting on the rocks at the West Cape boat launch. Croajingolong. It was a long way off but I do wish I had taken its photo as I find now that they are not common that far east.

Happy New Year Everyone.

All photos © Jennifer Spry

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