Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Pottering around

This year started out cold, wet and windy, spoiling our New Year’s Day lunch at the WTP in  the process. It then continued wet and windy into the weekend of 4th and 5th of January so we tried to get some sheltered birding and headed for the tall trees of Wombat Forrest, west of Melbourne. We only lasted until about 1300 when the wind finally blew us out of the forest and back home. Bother.
Forest road in the tall dry woodlands of Wombat Forest, west of Melbourne

Satin Flycatchers can appear black but as the sun hits them they really do shine like satin

They also have a wonderful crest that gives them a distinctive profile

Female Crested Shrike-tit. The male has a black bib

Cicadabirds do sound just like cicadas with there high pitched buzzy call. They also stay high in the canopy and can be very hard to find. This is the male of a pair that have returned to Wombat Forest each summer for a few years now

Between the 6th and 13th the weather improved and I had a couple of pleasant days birding at WTP but then, summer arrived in Melbourne with a crash. From the 14th to the 17th the temperatures were over 40º C every day, topping out at 44º C (111º F) on Thursday 16th, and the northerly winds with the heat made it feel like someone had just opened the doors to a blast furnace. The whole state had a total fire ban and the WTP was closed to birding, which was wise but a shame, it would have been rather pleasant to be sitting in the cool car watching birds wade about in the mud because it got to 30º C (86º F) inside my little brick row-house and I had fans going to try and give the sensation of cool, if not the fact. 
Summer Lagoon at WTP with hundreds of Australian Shelduck. At the moment there are many thousand shelduck spread across most of the ponds

Red-kneed Dotterel

Reeve feeding in the shallow low-tide sand flats of Port Phillip Bay in front of the WTP bird hide

Pectoral Sandpiper, rear and the similar looking Sharp-tailed Sandpiper in front

Birds rest in huge flocks on the roads inside the WTP and it pays to check each flock carefully. Here a White-winged Black Tern rests with a flock of Whiskered Terns

Brolga in flight with the You Yangs in the background

Brolgas with White-headed Stilt in the foreground.

White-headed Stilt stopping to smell the daisies

From the 18th the wind returned and made looking for small bush birds as difficult as it was before the heat but by the 19th things had improved and we went chasing Painted Button-quails in the You Yangs, south-west of Melb. They are a definite skulker and can be hard to find and see with their disruptive colouring. Last year I heard their soft “oom” call a few times and saw the small, round platelets they scrape out in the leaf litter as they search for food, but I didn’t see one. This time we got lucky and a small group of five or six birds were found in he dry woodland and gave us reasonable but fleeting views as they skittered between tree trunks and leaves.
Volcanic cone and boulders of the You Yangs State Park

Owlet Nightjar in its hollow

A pair of the very elusive and shy Painted Button-quail trying to sneak past without being seen

I followed up our Sunday outing to the You Yangs with a visit to the Point Cook Coastal Reserve looking for a possible American Golden Plover. It was first found late last year and seen again during the first week of this year. As this would be a new bird for my list the pursuit for a good look at it will be a continuing story until I track it down. There is a long weekend coming up with a trip to Chiltern in the north-east of the state so my next attempt at the plover will have to be late this month or early February. Ah, the joy of birding, always something new to find, some new challenge.

All text & images © Jenny Spry

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy New Year

New Year is a wonderful time for birding. A line is drawn under last year’s bird list and, with just one tick of the clock, everything old is new again. The bird seen yesterday is just “so last year”. On New Year’s Day it is a new bird for a new list.

As with last year my year started with friends at the Western Treatment Plant and a lovely sight to start the day was new life on display – the Brolga have a baby and it is so new it couldn’t even fly.
Brolga with one new baby


The Stubble Quail were happy too and their calls resounded across the paddocks and wader ponds all around the WTP.
Male Stubble Quail

Female Stubble Quail

The tourists are in town in force and there are more Marsh Sandpipers around than I have seen in the past 10 years. There are lots of the more uncommon waders too with Red Knot, Grey Plover, Pacific Golden Plover, Far Eastern Curlew, Pectoral, Broad-billed and Long-toed Sandpipers all strutting, preening and being seen in all the best feeding spots, just as all tourists do when they go to a beach resort in summer.
Pectoral Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper (l) and Marsh Sandpiper (r)

Long-toed Sandpiper

Broad-billed Sandpiper and two Red-necked Stints

The local Swamp Harriers have many degrees of plumage colour and this one was so dark we thought at first it was a Black Falcon but the yellow cere and pale feathers on the crown quickly gave it away.
Swamp Harrier

And when you put a Swamp Harrier among the visiting wader the result is quite spectacular.
Swamp Harrier amongst the waders

While most birds are in strong breeding colours the White-winged Black terns are still in their non-breeding colours and hanging out on the road with the Whiskered Terns.
White-winged Black Tern

But sadly the weather on New Year’s Day fell apart at 1215, just as we were sitting down to have lunch with faux champagne, nuts and fruit, and what started out as deck chairs and beach umbrellas ended up with us huddled in the bird hide. Still, the view and company were spectacular and what more could one want ... apart from some sunshine?
The picnic lunch

Another youngster to make an appearance was this stranger. All the rabbits at WTP are the common brown/grey type but this cute little guy dashed across the track and, despite the fact that they are a pest species, she just looked so young and cuddly, just like a toy from some-ones christmas stocking. I couldn’t think a bad thought about her and have decided she was an omen for 2014 – it is going to be young and full of fun, and even the common place will be bright and different.
Cinnamon Rabbit

Happy New Year Everyone and I hope you all have heaps of good fortune and new birds.

All text & images © Jenny Spry