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

No comments:

Post a Comment