Tuesday, April 30, 2013

ANZAC Day weekend to Chiltern ... “It’s a Hobby”

I am going to start this blog in the middle of our trip because one of those classic slap-stick events occurred and it needs special mention. Joy and I had driven up from Chiltern to Wodonga because Paul had told us exactly where to look for Double-barred Finches and we had never seen them in Victoria. With the finches safely ticked off we drove into Wodonga and got fuel for the car and food for us, then headed for a park for lunch. We were driving down Laurence Street, a wide street with light stanchions out over the road, when Joy hit the brakes and pulled over. We jumped out with binos and camera and stared up at a beautiful Australian Hobby on one of the stanchions. We then saw an older man with a geriatric dog watching us, and smiled at him. He looked at us, then the bird, and said, “what is it?” Joy said “It’s a Hobby”. The man then replied, honest, he really did, “Yes, I thought it was your hobby, but what sort of bird is it?” We explained all about the Hobby - and now one Wodonga man knows more about birds and we had the pleasure of participating in a real-life, un-scripted, impromptu, stand-up comedy routine. Birding is such fun.
Double-barred Finch race bichenovii at the southern extreme of its range

Each year we try to cover most areas of the state as we wander around looking for birds but somehow Chiltern has been missing out. Looking back at my records I see that the last time we were in Chiltern was July 2008! That was nearly 5 years ago! So Joy organised an extra day’s leave after ANZAC Day and we headed out for four days of birding. As it turned out we chose the perfect days. There was no wind for the whole time and each day was sunny, bright and warm after cool to cold nights.
Olive-backed Oriole with a fat, hairy caterpillar

We have birded together for so long now our talk in the car is dotted with words un-related to the on-going conversation such as: “Kestrel”, “yep”; “Galah”, “Where? OK”; “Wedgie”, “Got it”; and so a trip list builds without so much as a break in what we were talking about. On this trip we were hoping to see a Letter-winged Kite at Broadford, well out of its normal range, but there was no sign of the bird.

Now, I must mention the caravan park at Chiltern. It is in a great location and the owners are interested in birds and know all the latest information so when we arrived we heard all about the recent release of Regent Honeyeaters. We dropped our gear into cabin 3 and headed first for Bartley’s block, a prime location for many of the areas specialties such as Speckled Warbler, Turquoise Parrots, various robins and many honeyeaters.
Bushland beside Bartley's Block

We met Paul and Ruth at Bartley’s Block and Paul gave us some good leads and we built our weekend around them. The Barking Owl was high on the wish list and we headed down to Tovey Rd that night. We heard them calling but could not see one in the late dusk so we started to drive and spotlight. We were soon passed by a little red car that turned around ahead of us and drove back passed us to where it had come from. A bit strange, but hey. Then we saw a Barking Owl sitting on a branch about 2 metres above the road and we stopped and oohed and aaared, as you do, until it flew off. We then sat and chatted and looked at a field guide as a second car came from behind us. This car was white ... with blue and white checks down the side ... and a policeman at the wheel. He stopped, looked in at us, and asked what we were doing. As soon as Joy said “bird watching and looking for owls” he just said, “OK” and drove off. I guess the caravan park people in Chiltern are not the only ones used to the strange habits of birders. The police know about us too. I guess though that Ms red car was not aware of the weird nocturnal activities of owl-searching birders and had called the police.
This Iron-bark had been hit by lightning. Large pieces of wood and bark were lying 2 to 3 metres from the tree and the scar ran all the way to the top of the trunk.

Next day we were after the Double-banded Finches that live on Felltimber Creek Rd in Wodonga. The drive along this road was particularly interesting, not only because we found a flock of Diamond Firetails, but because we saw the damage done by a hurricane that had recently gone through the area. Whole trees were blown down and others had been ripped apart as if by some giant tearing the tops out of them as we would tear the heads from parsley plants. Four metre tall trees were snapped in half, larger trees had whole limbs ripped from their trunks, wind rows were laid flat. It must have been a very scary night. The finches were beside a pull-off just as the first houses of Wodonga took over from the bush and happily sat up and chatted as we watched them. Driving back, after the Hobby incident, we came upon a pair of Speckled Warblers feeding on the road and a pair of Crested Shrike-tit feeding at eye level on the verge.
Speckled Warbler

A late afternoon visit to Greenhill Dam at Chiltern gave us wonderful views of Regent Honeyeaters coming in to bathe and drink as well as a fly-by of a White-backed Swallow. The forest is alive with Noisy and Little Friarbirds. I have never seen or heard so many and their calls dominated wherever we went. With the hundreds of friarbirds in full throat the dawn choruses were particularly noisy and I will remember them for many years.
One of the 40 captive-bred Regent Honeyeaters that have just been released at Chiltern.

On Friday night we got take-away hamburgers and fish and chips after failing to find any White-throated Nightjars at Cyanide Dam (yes, I know it’s a bit late in the year but hey, ya got to try). Chatting with the woman in the shop we said we were bird watchers and she asked if we were looking for Barking Owls, and then gave us some suggestions on where to try. It seems like the Chilternittes are very aware of their birds and the benefits of having birders in town. And the hamburger with the lot was very good.

Next we wanted to see some Grey-crowned Babblers so we headed down to the Killawarra Forest to look for a couple of places where Paul had said we should try. It took a while but finally, at the last spot we tried, there they were, a small family of 5 birds. We drove back to Chiltern via back farm roads checking roadside dams for water birds. We saw surprisingly few but we did see a hunter with a double-barrelled shotgun over his arm beside one dam.
Grey-crowned Babbler

All up we saw just over a hundred species of birds. We decided that the bird of the trip was the Barking Owl. It only just won because the Double-barred Finches and Grey-crowned Babblers came in a close second and third. Surprise bird of the trip, that we awarded a “highly commended” mention, was a Tree Sparrow that we saw feeding in front of our cabin at the caravan park. Included in our total were six species of robin; Rose, Flame, Scarlet, Eastern-yellow, Red-capped and Jackie Winter.

Tree Sparrow. An uncommon bird that I would not have thought to see in Chiltern, even though Chiltern is within its known range.
This female Golden Whistler spent a lot of time bathing and was well soaked but kept her tail feathers fanned on the surface of the water. Perhaps the dry, fanned tail was to give needed leverage if a fast take-off was needed?

All images and text © Jenny Spry

Monday, April 15, 2013

Western Treatment Plant, Werribee

Birdlife at the Plant is spectacular at the moment. Huge flocks of ducks cover the ponds and Whistling Kites are seen in flocks of 10 to 20 birds. Welcome Swallows are in big flocks too, as are the Australian Shelducks and Pink-eared Ducks, both of which are present in their thousands. There are plenty of Red-necked Stint showing good breeding colours but I was surprised to find a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper in breeding plumage.

It is nice to see that there are 6 Brolga at the Plant at the moment, an adult pair with two full grown young and a second adult pair. And there are always surprises to be seen on a visit to the WTP; last weekend we had a Magpie Goose floating off-shore amongst a flock of Australian Shelduck.



Little Raven

Little Raven

Whistling Kite

Welcome Swallows in all their glossy finery. 

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper in near full breeding plumage

Little Raven harassing a Swamp Harrier. I like the way the Harrier has adopted a swift-like wing shape in an attempt to escape the annoying raven
Swamp Harriers are so wary I find it hard to get a photo of one sitting.  This one knew it had been seen but remained just long enough for me to get a photo

Magpie Geese are not common in Victoria and are usually seen near or on fresh water ponds and lakes. For some reason this bird chose Port Phillip Bay for a rest.

All images copyright Jenny Spry

Monday, April 8, 2013

Hattah and Sunset easter 2013

Last time I stayed at Hattah Kulkyne National Park in north-west Victoria daytime temperatures were in the low 50º C and the birds were looking for any shade they could find, including down rabbit burrows and under logs. We spent a lot of time in the car with the air conditioning on.

This time the weather was perfect for birds and birders with daytime temps in the mid 20s and little to no wind. The birds were not easy to find but when we did find them they were spectacular. Malleefowl were everywhere, especially at dusk and dawn, and we must have seen 20 or so, including active nesting mounds. Feeding waves of honeyeaters and thornbills worked through the mallee scrub calling as they moved through the leaves and ground litter. Even the usually difficult to find Crested Bellbird was comparatively easy to see.

I never thought I would be able to say "the Malleefowl were common" but they were. Sadly my camera lens died so many of these photos were taken with an old Canon S3 point and shoot.
I also saw some areas of the Sunset country I have never been to before. At the north edge where the Werrimull South Rd meets the park we found White-browed Treecreepers. From here we drove east and then south down the Rocket Lake track to the wonderfully, beautifully, bleak Raak Plains.

The Raak Plains. There was a delicious smell of rain in the air and the chats we hoped to find did not show so we moved on.
South of here on Honeymoon Track we found a Red-lored Whistler and, almost better, we were birding near a couple who found and photographed a Black-eared Miner. Now I MUST go back. I have seen them at Gluepot but never in Vic and it’s special to know that there are some existing colonies in the state.

When I pished this male pileata came and did a distraction display, hopping back and forward with his head down and feathers puffed out.
The Lakes at Hattah have some water in them but they are drying out. There were not many waders around but we did find a single Banded Stilt and in the evenings many birds came down to drink. Our camp was back from the lake but, fortuitously, it was under the flight-path of the Common Bronzewings as they came in to drink each night. The Regent Parrots seemed to prefer a morning drink and they flew over just after there was enough sun to light the tops of the trees.

Evening on Lake Hattah

The lone Banded Stilt on Lake Hattah
Apostlebirds owned the Hattah campground and moved from campsite to campsite checking for dropped crumbs and hand-outs. The shock though, for me, was to be standing in the morning light with a last bite of yummy, hot buttered hot cross bun held gently between thumb and forefinger. As I lifted it toward my mouth there was a rush of air, a brush of wing feathers across my face and a roar of laughter from Joy. A Grey Butcherbird had come through and taken the last bite of bun (and everyone knows the last bite is the tastiest) from between my fingers and carried it to a branch above my head.

Noisy Miners in the evening light above our campsite
 Understanding that all birds are special, the highlights of the trip were Inland Thornbill, Red-lored Whistler, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Crested Bellbird, Malleefowl, White-browed Treecreeper, Regent Parrot, Black-faced Woodswallow and the Mulga Parrots and Bluebonnets that where everywhere.
Early morning on the road from Hattah to Honeymoon Track
Event of the trip would have to be when we went spotlighting for Spotted Nightjar. As we drove north on the Mournpall Track one flushed from beside the car as we passed. It rose to just below bonnet level and then paced the car down the track keeping just ahead of us and in the headlights. The wing-spots shone and the colours of the back showed clearly. The car filled with gasps, ooohs and aaahs as we watched, spellbound, until it lifted slightly and veered off across the open heathland. Some moments in birding are just special.

Spotted Nightjar with its eyes shining in the car's headlights. 

All images copyright Jenny Spry

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Shelduck at WTP Sunday 7th April

The following images were taken at WTP Werribee this morning by Joy Tansey. The bird was first reported on Birding - Aus last week by Russell Woodford.

The bird was relocated this morning at low tide on rocks in the bay half way between the Murtcain Outlet and Kirks point ( 38º 02' 14" S  144º 38' 02" E ).

The bird was with a flock of Australian Shelduck but tended to be on the edge of the flock. A close approach was not possible because the birds were flighty. All images were taken with a Canon 500D and a 100 - 400 L lens.

Flight shot shooing underwing comparative neck shape to Aus Shelduck

Upperwing showing pale coverts

Note steep forehead and apparent short, deep bill

Note dark vertical line between flank and vent. This was visible on most images

Note pale vent compared to dark vent for Aus Shelduck

Note extensive white on head and no white collar

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Bird in comparison to Aus Shelducks

Bird in comparison to Aus Shelducks. Note different head shape

This image has been lightened to show colour of vent. Note steep forehead and apparent short bill

As with image above note lack of speculum or different coloured covert feathers  on wing. Note also lack of white ring at base of neck. Leg can just be seen and is black.