Thursday, December 20, 2012

Australia: A Big Day of Birding

4 July 2012 

I’m catching up with more posts from our honeymoon trip back in the summer... 

For our second day in Melbourne we hired top bird guide Steve Davidson, aka The Melbourne Birder for a full day birding marathon around the Greater Melbourne area. Steve collected us at 06:30 and after an hour’s drive towards the Great Ocean Road we were in the scrubby heath around Point Addis cliffs searching for the endangered Rufous Bristlebird. Several were calling but only a few glimpses were obtained of this elusive species. As this was only my second day in Australia, every species was new and exciting! Offshore at least seven White-capped (Shy) Albatrosses drifted around with an Australasian Gannet in tow. Further out a dense feeding flock of 200+ Fluttering Shearwaters was picked out. While looking out for a regular Wedge-tailed Eagle I saw my first wild Kangaroos. Several White-browed Scrubwrens were seen and heard along with Super Fairy-Wren, White-naped Honeyeater, Crimson Rosella, Great Cormorant, Australian Magpie and Little Raven.

Heading north on the Point Addis Road, a brief pause turned into a much longer stop as the roadside scrub proved to very ‘birdy’. I didn’t take any photographs today, but then I could barely keep up with writing notes and species’ names! With so many good birds coming thick and fast I really wanted to spend as much times as possible watching them through the bins. Steve is amazing at picking up everything by sound or the briefest glimpse and we were treated to great close views of Eastern Spinebill, White-throated Treecreeper, Crescent Honeyeater, Scarlet Robin, Brown-headed Honeyeater, Buff-rumped Thornbill, Brown Thornbill, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Striated Thornbill. Golden Whistler, Grey Shrike-thrush, White-eared Honeyeater, Silver-eye and a vocalising Laughing Kookaburra. 

Later, the wetlands at Kiraaf provided White-fronted Chat, White-fronted Heron, Welcome Swallow, Masked Lapwing, and we heard a familiar sound from back home – a displaying Eurasian Skylark. The next location was a superb little estuary at Point Impossible. While Steve set out some coffee and home-made cake, a Kelp Gull flew past, then we were out to find our target – the endangered Hooded Plover (or Hooded Dotterel). Steve found a pair of these smart waders along with two Red-capped Plovers and around 80 Double-banded Plovers. While the waders fed unobtrusively on the shoreline, the sky was filling up with incoming Little Black Cormorants with over 200 flying in to feed at the mouth of the estuary. Other species here included Australasian Gannet, Brown Thornbill, Singing Honeyeater, Welcome Swallow, Spotted Dove, Little Egret, Cattle Egret and another introduced species: Common or Eurasian Blackbird. 

Time was pressing on so we headed on and approximately two kilometres inland we stopped to look for Blue-winged Parrot, Striated Fieldwren and Golden-headed Cisticola. Our first wild Black Swan was seen along with great views of a male Superb Fairy-Wren. Raptor action was provided by two Black-shouldered Kites, a female Nankeen Kestrel with prey and a Swamp Harrier, mobbed by Masked Lapwings. Other species observed here included White-faced Heron, Magpie-lark, Eurasian Starling and Skylark. 

The next site was the main focus of the day – the Western Treatment Plant. I had read much about how outstanding this area is for wetland birds and it did not disappoint. There was so much to see that the notebook was abandoned for the checklist! En route we saw Whistling Kite, Eastern Rosella, Pied Currawong, Gang-gang Cockatoo, Little Raven, Black-shouldered Kite and a superb Brown Falcon. After locking the gate behind us on the private road in to the site, more good birds appeared building our excitement and anticipation. Another Brown Falcon was perched close to the track, along with three Crested Pigeons, over 20 Yellow-rumped Thornbills, a dozen Zebra Finches. The water birds then started to appear with 10 Australian Pelicans soaring in the distance, followed by 40 Straw-necked Ibises and a small flock of Australian Shelducks. 

On reaching the wetlands the sheer number of birds on the lagoon, billabongs and marshes was amazing: waders, ducks, pelicans, herons, egrets, spoonbills, grebes, and raptors. You could spend days at this site and it must make for a superb local patch for any locals lucky enough to have access to this special site. Some of the highlights here included Freckled Duck (5 of this endangered species), Red-necked Avocet, Cape Barren Goose, Pink-eared Duck, Blue-billed Duck, Musk Duck, Pacific Black Duck, Chestnut Teal, Australian Shoveler, Grey Teal, Hardhead, Black Swan, Hoary-headed Grebe, Royal Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Pied Cormorant, Little Pied Cormorant, Straw-necked Ibis, White-faced Heron, and Australian White Ibis. Approaching the coast, we searched for Australian Spotted Crake (heard only) but we got nice views of a Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo, Buff-banded Rail and the shoreline provided Fairy Tern, Great Crested Tern, Australian Pied Oystercatcher and Little Black Cormorant. Black-shouldered Kites were very common along with several Swamp Harrier, Whistling Kites, Nankeen Kestrels, and another Brown Falcon. 

We had an itinerary to keep to so sadly we had to move on - but more good birds kept on coming as we stopped to watch nine Banded Lapwings at close range, along with a Flame Robin and four Galahs. We searched a stretch of gum trees for Red-rumped Parrots but I only managed to hear them. Moving on, we picked up another Little Eagle and Grey Currawong. 

Thereafter it was a long drive, helped by a coffee stop, to the wet, hilly forests of Bunyip State Park on the eastern side of Melbourne for my most-wanted species of the day – the Superb Lyrebird! The first area we stopped at was Cannibal Creek and got great views of at least five Australian King-Parrots and six Red-browed Firetails on the ground. We added Grey Fantail and Little Wattlebird to our list while Laughing Kookaburras and Pied Currawongs provided some exotic-sounding vocalisations. A short drive then provided my first good views of two perched Laughing Kookaburras. 

Once deep inside Bunyip State Park we tried unsuccessfully for Southern Emu-Wren but did see Bassian Thrush (with another singing), Eastern Whipbird, White-throated Treecreeper and Golden Whistler. The light started to fade but this only added to primeval feel of the wet forest, dripping heavily after a recent shower, and so setting the scene for the next species. We began to hear several Superb Lyrebirds and I was trying to make some ‘record’ sound samples. Then Lisa began tugging at me indicating in hushed tones that something was creeping through the trees just feet away. And then a male Superb Lyrebird emerged, walking along a fallen tree towards us. It hopped off and strutted along trail right in front of us. I’d never expected to get views like this – enchanting! Amazingly a second bird was walking on the trail further down the slope. Darkness soon closed in with an Eastern Yellow Robin calling after sunset. It had been a tremendous day but our attention then turned to spot-lighting the nocturnal species. Unfortunately it was a quiet evening but some nice mammals were seen including Brush-tailed Possum, Ring-tailed Possum, Wallaby, and Grey Kangaroo. 

After a long night drive back to the city, Steve safely returned us to door of our hotel where the whirlwind trip had begun 14.5 hours earlier. Having done a similar 24 hour trip to Doñana (from Zahara) I know how tiring it can be so we offer a huge thanks to Steve for his enthusiasm and skill right to the end. A day to remember! 

At least 107 species were logged (might have missed a few): 
Blue-billed Duck, Musk Duck, Freckled Duck, Black Swan, Cape Barren Goose, Australian Shelduck, Australian Wood Duck, Pacific Black Duck, Australasian Shoveler, Grey Teal, Chestnut Teal, Pink-eared Duck, Hardhead, Hoary-headed Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Fluttering Shearwater, Shy Albatross, Australasian Gannet, Little Pied Cormorant, Pied Cormorant, Little Black Cormorant, Great Cormorant, Australian Pelican, White-faced Heron, Little Egret, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Australian White Ibis, Straw-necked Ibis, Royal Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Black-shouldered Kite, Whistling Kite, Swamp Harrier, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Little Eagle, Brown Falcon, Nankeen Kestrel, Buff-banded Rail, Australian Spotted Crake, Purple Swamphen, Dusky Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Australian Pied Oystercatcher, Banded Stilt, Red-necked Avocet, Red-capped Plover, Double-banded Plover, Hooded Plover, Banded Lapwing, Pacific Gull, Silver Gull, Crested Tern, Fairy Tern, Rock Dove, Spotted Turtle-Dove, Crested Pigeon, Gang-gang Cockatoo, Galah, Australian King-Parrot, Crimson Rosella, Eastern Rosella, Blue-winged Parrot, Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo, Laughing Kookaburra, Superb Lyrebird, White-throated Treecreeper, Superb Fairy-Wren, Rufous Bristlebird, White-browed Scrubwren, Brown Thornbill, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Red Wattlebird, Little Wattlerbird, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Singing Honeyeater, White-eared Honeyeater, White-plumed Honeyeater, Brown-headed Honeyeater, White-naped Honeyeater, White-fronted Chat, Scarlet Robin, Flame Robin, Eastern Yellow Robin, Eastern Whipbird, Golden Whistler, Grey Shrike-thrush, Magpie-lark, Grey Fantail, Willie Wagtail, Australian Magpie, Pied Currawong, Grey Currawong, Australian Raven, Skylark, House Sparrow, Zebra Finch, Red-browed Firetail, European Goldfinch, Welcome Swallow, Little Grassbird, Golden-headed Cisticola, Silvereye, Bassian Thrush, Common Blackbird, Common Starling, Common Myna.

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