Chiltern Winter 2013 – Australia’s best winter forest?

Due to some PhD research commitments at Charles Sturt University, I’ve recently been traveling through Chiltern quite a bit. As a result I thought I’d update my trip report page for Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park – the original report was fairly scratchy anyway. If you ask Australian birdwatchers what their favorite bird sites are, for many Chiltern easily slips into the top ten. There’s a wide range of literature available on Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park (see the end of this report), so this report is really just my personal take on this wonderful national park, with a few thoughts on some of the plants, animals and the best birding sites in the park.

Regent Honeyeater. With remaining numbers estimated at between 500 – 1500, are they looking into the darkness

Background notes
Created in October 2002, Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park (21,560 ha) conserves Victoria’s Box‐Ironbark forests and woodlands, a unique habitat to Australia. This type of forests once covered 13-14% of Victoria, ~3 million ha, by 2013 ~85% has been cleared. So the park is an extremely important remnant of this once widespread forest-type, and provides a really important habitat link between the foothills of the Australian Alps and the Murray Riverine plains.

Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park is probably the best flora and fauna assemblage of any Box-Ironbark forest in Australia. There are well-formed vehicle tracks throughout the park, providing access to most areas. I’ve found the best way of birding in the Chiltern is to follow these tracks looking for flowering eucalypts. This process is relatively straight-forward: look for recently fallen blossom and buds on the ground, and listen for the sounds of calling birds. When flowering, the eucalypts in Chiltern produce an abundance of nectar, food for hungry honeyeaters and parrots. So, using this technique is a pretty effective way to track down the parks birds.

Mugga Ironbark (Eucalyptus sideroxylon) – another spectacular winter’s morning in Chiltern

In terms of ornithological conservation, the most significant species is the Regent Honeyeater, whic relies on the Box-Ironbark species for survival. Historically seen in large flocks – in some cases several hundred strong – Regent Honeyeater were once found around Adelaide in South Australia, and Fred Smith once saw a Regent Honeyeater at Yarra Bend, a park in central Melbourne. Current estimates suggest that there is now as few as 1000 birds. In Victoria the main breeding sites for Regent Honeyeater around Chiltern and Benalla. In winter Regent Honeyeater disperse widely i.e. recent records of birds in Gippsland, with seasonal movements dictated by flowering eucalypts. The loss of these eucalypts through habitat loss – especially in terms of corridors of habitat – and the lack of regeneration of these tree species, seems to be the key to their decline. 

How to get there, where to stay
The park’s located between Beechworth and Chiltern. It’s 275 km north-east of Melbourne, 34 km north of Wangaratta, and about 40 km south of Albury and Wodonga. The best access is from the Hume Freeway at the Chiltern turn-off. Camping and accommodation is available in the nearby towns of Chiltern and Beechworth, and there’s camping sites along Reedy Creek (Mt Pilot section of the park) and basic bush camping at the Tuan Campsite, located on Depot Rd in the north side of the park. My personal preference is to stay in the Lake Anderson Caravan Park in Chiltern, and the Colonial Motel is also good value.

Common Fringe-lily (Thysanotus tuberosus) – its frilly edges last just one day.

The flora
The park’s dominate canopy trees are open eucalyptus such as the rugged Mugga Ironbark (Eucalyptus sideroxylon), Grey (E. microcarpa) and White Box (E. albens), Red Stringybark (E. macrorhyncha) and Blakely’s Red Gum (E. blakelyi). Many of these trees flower in sequence, providing a consistent nectar source for the resident and visiting bird species. Occasionally Mugga Ironbark and the box species produce hybrids. There are good examples of this at the eastern end of the White Box Walking Track, just east of the Honeyeater Picnic Area.  The national park also preserves a range of endangered tree species, such as the Warby Range Swamp Gum (E. cadens), and the blue-leafed Beechworth Silver Stringybark (E. aff. cinerea) – look for the later at the Woolshed Falls. Much of eucalypts in the park are covered by Box Mistletoe (Amyema miquelli) and Fleshy Mistletoe (A. miraculosa ssp boormanii), a favourite plant of many species of birds notably Painted Honeyeater.  Other eucalpts include River Red Gum (E. camaldulensis) and Yellow Box (E. melliodora), mostly near the parks wetlands such as the Chiltern Valley No 1 and No 2 Dams and Frogs Hollow. There are also significant roadsides habitats that run through farmland bordering the park, such along Fishers Lane and Toveys Rd.

A stunning Leopard Orchid (Diuris pardina)

Chiltern has Australia’s largest reserved population of Black Cypress-pine (Callitris endlicherii), mainly on the dry granite ridges in the east of the park near Eldorado. Travelling through these Black Cypress-pine forests reminds me of Terrick Terrick National Park in central Victoria, a park dominated by White Cypress-pine (C. glaucophylla). Perhaps surprisingly the cypress-pine forests near Chiltern are under-visited by birders, myself included. I might correct this oversight during the forthcoming spring.

The park has a prolific array of shrubs that includes many wattles and wildflowers. During winter and autumn the shrub layer is relatively quiet – when compared to spring – however it still has a wonderful selection flowering plants and contrasting colours. You might see Hoary Sunray (Leucochrysum albicans), Slender Rice-flower (Pimelia linifolia), and Urn Heath (Melichrus urceolatus) – a plant somewhat similar to Heath Murtle. One autumn flowering flower is the Common Fringe-lily (Thysanotus tuberosus), surely one of Australia’s most strikingly beautiful wildflowers, its frilly edges of their three petaled flowers only last for one day.

Wattles include Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha), Varnish Wattle (A. verniciflua) and the winter flowering Spreading Wattle (A. genistifolia), with its delightful lemon colour. The Deane’s Wattle (A. deanei) is a rare local endemic.  The Spur-wing Wattle (A. triptera) was planted in the park during the 1960s. It was sourced from the only natural occurring Victorian population in the Warby Range State Park, in case of local extinction. Cherry Ballart (Exocarpos cupressiformis) features highly in the park, and is a favoured tree for many species of birds, including honeyeater such as Regent Honeyeater, using its dense foliage for roosting and to search for small insects. (Indeed the relationship between Cherry Ballart and Regent Honeyeater is probably understated in the literature.) The wattles and the Cherry Ballart contrast beautifully with the hard black fissured trunks of the Mugga Ironbark and Grey Box.

Cat’s Claw (Grevillea alpina)

Another winter flowering plant is the Broom Bitter-pea (Daviesia genistifolia). A low-growing egg and bacon style plant, it has a delightful tinge of orange and mauve. Somewhat similar it the apply-named Handsome Flat-pea (Platylobium formosum). Then there is the blue Common Hovea (Hovea linearis).

It is worth searching for the extremely rare and critically endangered Mountain Swainson Pea (Swainsona recta). The total number of reported plants in Australia ranges from ~2,700 to ~4,000. Presumed extinct in Victoria, until a single population of four plants was found near Beechworth in 2001, discovered by none-other than Eileen Collins.

Spring is the time for prolific wildflowers in Chiltern. For those fascinated by our native orchids – myself included – with patience late-autumn/spring is the time to search for them. Look for the the spectacular Crimson Spider Orchid (Caladenia concolor), Lepord Orchid (Diuris pardina), Mt Pilot Spider Orchid (C. pilotensis) – an endemic to Victoria’s northern inland slopes – and the rare Yellow Hyacinth Orchid (Dipodium hamiltonianum) – another with a leopard-like colouration, it’s covered in purple spots.

Gymnopilus sp.

In spring Golden Everlasting (Brachyscome bracteata) cover the ground at Bartley’s Block. Along with Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha), the block turns into yellow-wonderland. Another yellow-flowering plant is the Woolly Ragwort (Senecio garlandii). An erect perennial, daisy-like flower, growing to ~2 high, it was previously only known from one site in Victoria. Two new sites have been found, one of those in the Box-Ironbark forest in Chiltern. The total population consisted of a single individual! (The best spot to look for Woolly Ragwort is actually The Rock Nature Reserve, about 30 km south of Wagga Wagga.) At some sites the Chocolate-lily (Arthropodium strictum) can completely blanket the ground – such as around the car park at Yeddonba. The flower is a delightful blue, while the use of chocolate in the names alludes to the scent of the flowers which resembles chocolate. With their racemose inflorescence ~1 m high (great term that means the flower stalk continues to produce new flower buds during growth), when the Chocolate-lilies flower, they flower in large clusters they look spectacular. Fringed Heath-myrtle (Micromyrtus ciliatus) is common in certain areas of the park, particularly around Mt Pilot along the walk to the summit.

As far as I’m aware, the Xanthorrhoea at Chiltern is the Grey Grass-tree (Xanthorrhoea glauca subsp. angustifolia), which has recently been nominated for listing as a threatened species in Victoria. Perhaps surprisingly they’re uncommon, for example, grass tress are common in the Warby Ranges, a park with a very similar environment. The flowering stems attract large numbers of butterflies, hoverflies and other insect, which in turn attracts birds. I’ve found that the Xanthorrhoea is an excellent nesting-plant for various woodland birds such as Golden Whistler, so it’s always worth having a look in their dense grassy foliage for nesting activity.

I should point out that the Chiltern is a great place to see fungi. The most dramatic are the Smooth Cage (Ileodictyon gracile), an intriguing basket fungi, the wonderful Earthstar (Triplex Geastrum) and the stunning Blue Stain (Chlorociboria sp). These are all spectacular to see. On several occasions in Chiltern I’ve met groups of mycologist (fungi people), scouring the ground for fungal fruit.

The diurnal and infamous Yellow-footed Antechinus: this one popped in and out of a small tree hollow ~60 feet up a Grey Box, before coming down to feed on the ground.

Chiltern’s animals
The Box-Ironbark forests around Chiltern are a fantastic place to see a selection of native Australian mammals. Effectively the mammalian fauna consists of large grazers, medium-sized browsers, small ground insectivores, arboreal species and the bats.

In terms of large grazers there are two – the Eastern Grey Kangaroo (Macropus giganteus), common, while the Black (Swamp) Wallaby (Wallabia bicolor) is often seen darting off the dirt tracks – there’s usually an animal or two resident along most watercourse and creek lines. The Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) is relatively common, while the Common Wombat (Vombatus ursinus) is surprisingly rare. I’ve not seen them in Chiltern, but I’ve heard that recently a burrow was found, with associated diggings and droppings. I’m not sure what their status in the Mt Pilot section, particularly the far-east near Beechworth? They are certainly quite common in the Beechworth Historic Park.

A curious Sugar Glider – known by some as the Short-headed Flying Phalanger. I think I’ll stick with Sugar Glider.

The main small ground insectivores in the park is the wonderful Yellow-footed Antechinus (Antechinus flavipes). Also known as the Mardo, a local shop keeper refers to them as the Chiltern Golden Mouse. At times is can be quite common; recently I seem to be seeing them every stop I make. An intriguing animal, it’s comparatively diurnal when compared to other similar species. It’s infamous – for want of better word – for its sexual behaviour, engaging in a mating-frenzy that results in the stress-related death of all adult males before they reach one year old! I’ve seen them at a number of location in Chiltern. Recently I’ve seen them at Chiltern Valley No 2 Dam – they made the small diggings just before the bird hide. I’ve also seen them along Ryans Rd, most often on the ground, but also feeding high up in the canopy, with an animal darting in and out of a small tree hollow ~60 feet up a Grey Box.

The arboreal, tree-dwelling species are particularly well-represented in Chiltern-Mt Pilot-National Park. Late one night – while spotlighting for owl – in the beam of the cars headlights, I saw a Brush-tailed Phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa) run (or rather bounce) across the Chiltern-Beechworth Rd. It then leaped into a roadside tree. This Brush-tailed Phascogale is heavily dependent upon the Box-Ironbark ecosystem – aside from Chiltern, I’ve seen them several times at Heathcote-Graytown National Park.

Female Eastern Grey Kangaroo with joey

Three gliders (Petaurus sp) are present in the park. The Sugar Glider (Petaurus breviceps) has an alternative name – the Short-headed Flying Phalanger! Not bad. That’s what I will call them from now on. A good spot to look for them is Frog Hollow, jumping between trees, and listen for their barking call just after dusk – a yip, yip or yap,yap, a bit like the bark of a small dog. Another glider, the Squirrel Glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) is almost twice the size of a Sugar Glider. It’s uncommon, and has a preference for roadside trees and watercourses in the southern area of the park. I’m yet to see Feathertail Glider at Chiltern – it’s the smallest of the local gliders, occasionally observed along river line and Box-Ironbark forests feeding amongst the heavily blossoming flowering eucalypts. All the gliders are highly social, and very territorial, so where there’s one there’s sure to be others. The gliders, along with the Brush-tailed Phascogale and the bats, seem to be benefiting from the erection of mammal boxes. Common Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) and Common Ringtail Possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus) are both reasonably common, preferring areas with large hollow-bearing trees, and can be seen around Chiltern’s town parks. A good spot to look for Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is around the Honeyeater Picnic Area.

Bat species feature predominantly in Chiltern. The extensive list includes Southern Freetail Bat (Mormopterus planiceps), there used to be a large colony of inside the historical Chiltern Jail, White-striped Freetail Bat (Tadarida australis), Gould’s (Chalinolobus gouldii) and Chocolate Wattle Bat (C. morio), Gould’s (Nyctophilus gouldi) and Lesser Long-eared Bat (N. geoffroyi), Inland Broad-nosed Bat (Scotorepens balstoni), and Large (Vespadelus darlingtoni), Southern (V. regulus) and Little Forest (V. vulturnus) Bat. All are vulnerable to loss of roost sites in tree hollows and, of course, loss of habitat.

The perfectly named Painted Button-quail – blending into its environment.

Other native mammals recorded in the national park include Water Rat (Hydromys chrysogaster), Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), both predominately from the Mt Pilot section. Every now and again there’s are unconfirmed report of Spot-tailed (Tiger) Quoll (Dasyurus maculatus). It’s mainland Australia’s largest marsupial carnivore, with the last confirmed sighting in the mid-1970s. Unfortunately a couple of introduced animals seem to be increasing, Sambar Deer (Cervus unicolor) and Hare (Lepus europaeus). A couple of weeks ago I flushed a Hare from its hide in very centre of the national park. 

The birds in the park
Over 220 bird species have been recorded, with a full list available on the Friends of Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park website. That makes Chiltern second best birding site in Victoria, about 40 behind the Western Treatment Plant, and a few ahead of Hattah-Kulkyne, Croajingolong, Greater Bendigo, Warby-Ovens, Terrick Terrick and the Little Desert. In effect, aside from some silly treatment plant, it is the best birding site in the state! By way of comparison to other birding sites in Australia, Chiltern-Mt Pilot NP reminds me of the Capertee Valley and Munghorn Gap Nature Reserve in NSW, Sundown and Girraween NPs in Queensland and, perhaps, Dryandra Reserve (for various reasons) in Western Australia.

Speckled Warbler – looking very muck like a warbler in an English woodland.

Visiting birders target species Regent, Painted and Black-chinned Honeyeater, Swift and Turquoise Parrot, Square-tailed Kite, Painted Button-quail, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Grey-crowned Babbler, Speckled Warbler, White-browed and White-breasted Woodswallow, Chestnut-rumped Heathwren, Western and White-throated Gerygone, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Diamond Firetail and night birds such as Barking Owl and White-throated Nightjar. In the Mt Pilot section highlights include Australian King-Parrot, Satin Bowerbird (winter), Spotted Quail-thrush and Leaden Flycatcher.

The more common species in Chiltern include Yellow-tufted, Fuscous, White-naped, White-plumed and Brown-headed Honeyeater as well as Eastern Spinebill, Red Wattlebird, Noisy and Little Friarbird. Other common birds include Eastern Rosella, Little Lorikeet, Red-rumped Parrot, Common Bronzewing, Laughing Kookaburra, Brown Tree-creeper, Jacky Winter, Scarlet, Eastern Yellow and Red-capped Robin, Golden and Rufous Whistler, Grey Shrike-thrush, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Restless Flycatcher, Dusky Woodswallow, White-browed Babbler, Grey Fantail, Willie Wagtail, Silvereye, Mistletoebird, plus a few others.

Some of the uncommon, rare and vagrant species recorded include Freckled Duck, Brolga, Black-tailed Native-hen, Bush Stone-curlew, Latham’s Snipe, Australian Painted-Snipe, Black-eared Cuckoo, Red-backed Kingfisher, Black Falcon, Cockatiel, Southern Whiteface, Masked Woodswallow, Rose Robin, White-backed Swallow, Crescent Honeyeater, Cicadabird, Double-barred Finch and, more recently, honeyeaters such as Black, Scarlet and White-fronted Honeyeater. Hooded Robin is becoming increasingly rare in the forest, and Crested Bellbird, last recorded in 1991, is considered locally extinct.

Eastern Yellow Robin, wearing its fashionable winter coat

Bartley’s Block
Bartley’s Block is an old bush paddocks bordered by Box-Ironbark, and is probably the most visited birdwatching spot in the park. As with most birding habitats, fringe habitats provide some of the best birding, and this is certainly the case with Bartley’s Block. It’s located ~3 km from Chiltern, on the left/west side of Howlong-Chiltern Rd. The best access is via a small car park at the north side of the block – blink and you’ll miss it.

I’ve found the best technique for birding Bartley’s is to simply walk around the block’s boundary, a total distance of about a kilometre. This will usually produce a wide diversity of woodland such as Little Lorikeet, Jacky Winter, Mistletoebird, Red-browed Finch, Rufous and Golden Whistler, Restless Flycatcher, robin’s such as Scarlet, Red-capped, Flame (winter), occasionally Rose Robin and, in  spring and summer, you can add the following to the list: Sacred Kingfisher, Peaceful Dove,Western Gerygone, White-winged Triller, Rufous Songlark, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo and Olive-backed Oriole. It’s worth keeping an eye open for raptors to look for include Brown Goshawk and Collared Sparrowhawk.

Bartley’s Block (and Chiltern) must be one the best places in Australia to see honeyeaters, rivaling most site in Australia. An amazing 18 species have been recorded here, including Eastern Spinebill, Red and Little Wattlebird, Little and Noisy Friarbird, Noisy Miner, and Black-chinned, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Brown-headed, White-naped, White-eared Honeyeater, Regent, Yellow-tufted, Fuscous, White-plumed, Black, Scarlet and Painted Honeyeater. Not a bad list! Painted Honeyeater is one of the most sought-after, usually found from spring to autumn, they have a particularly liking the flowering Box Mistletoe in the larger Mugga Ironbark on north-west side of the block. In April this year there were 5 birds feeding in the same trees tree!

Speckled Warbler occur along the south-east side of the block, near the two small dams, and in the area of scattered Golden Wattle at the top of the block. The area around the wattle is also excellent for smaller passerines such as Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Red-browed Finch, Western Gerygone and robin’s such as Scarlet, Red-capped, and occasionally Rose.

Silvereye feeding in the old Persimmon Tree at Bartley’s Block

On the north-east side of the paddock you’ll find the old Bartley Brewery. Operational from 1861-1913, it’s important to the history of Chiltern. It’s also a good area to look for Turquoise Parrot and Western Gerygone (in summer, listen for them calling the larger gums near the car park). Remnant exotic trees around the old brewery site include a couple of very old Japanese Persimmon (Diospyros kaki). In autumn the their leaves turn a spectacular orange colour and, in late April, the trees fruit ripen, attracting dozen of birds, such as such as Golden Whistler, Mistletoebird, Eastern Spinebill, Brown-headed and White-naped Honeyeater and Pied Currawong to name a few, all gorging themselves. There is nothing better that just sitting under these trees and watch the continual procession of feeding birds. 

Honeyeater Picnic Area and Cyanide Dam
Along with Bartley’s Block, the Honeyeater Picnic Area at Cyanide Dam is probably Chiltern’s best known birding site. Until recently, it was the best place to see Regent Honeyeater and it still has potential; for example in spring 2012 a pair of Regent Honeyeater bred near the junction of All Nations Rd and Cyanide Rd. I’ve found the best birding area is the south-east side of the dam, being particularly good an hour or so after dawn. Birds seen here, and around the dam generally, include Turquoise Parrot, Painted Button-quail, Black-chinned, Yellow-tufted and Fuscous Honeyeater, Little Lorikeet, Scarlet Robin, Restless Flycatcher, Mistletoebird and, in summer, Sacred Kingfisher, Peaceful Dove, Olive-backed Oriole and White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike (most often seen walking north along Cyanide Rd). The dam is particularly good for Brown Treecreeper and Eastern Yellow Robin, both species surprisingly tame, while on the dam itself is usually a pair of Australasian Grebe. The dam is also a summer hawking site for White-throated Nightjar.  

White Box Walking Track
The White Box Walking Track starts just north of the Honeyeater Picnic Area. It’s total length is just over 8 km so it takes a good couple of hours to complete. I usually just do a small loop at start of the walk: walking up the hill to the top of the first major ridge, then turn east and walk down the forest slopes back to Cyanide Rd. When the White Box is flowering, the east-facing downward slope can an excellent for both Swift and Turquoise Parrot, and several pairs of Painted Button-quail are are usually in this area, particularly in the small valleys the bottom of the ridge. It’s also a good spot to see Yellow-footed Antechinus and Lace Monitor (particularly summer, when they’re more active). Other birds to look for include Scarlet and Red-capped Robin, Western and White-throated Gerygone (summer), Crested Shrike-tit, Varied Sittella and White-throated Treecreeper.

Green Hill Dam. When the Box-Ironbark is flowering, the dawn chorus can be almost deafening

Green Hill Dam
A small wildlife dam n Green Hill Rd, between Magenta Rd and the Pipeline Track, it’s located on the northern edge of the forest. Over the last couple of years Green Hill Dam has become perhaps the most reliable place to see Regent Honeyeater. It’s a classic Box-Ironbark dam, surrounded by bush. Sometimes the sounds of birds can be almost deafening – especially mornings and and evenings – with some of Australia’s most vocal honeyeaters such as Noisy Friarbird, Red Wattlebird, Yellow-tufted and Fuscous Honeyeater all calling continually. In terms of birding, it’s a good spot just to sit down to have lunch or a cup of tea. Be patient, sit, wait and listen for the birds to come to you.

Somewhat similar to Green Hill Dam, the Lappins Dam (-36.131064,146.567389) another good wildlife dam: in November 2012 a Regent Honeyeater was seen here.

The colours of the royal regent, the Regent Honeyeater.

Magenta Mine
A historical mine, and an adjacent dam, the Mugga Ironbark around the car park is excellent for honeyeaters such as Black-chinned, Fuscous, Yellow-tufted and Noisy Friarbird. I’ve also seen Swift Parrot here. For this reason it was as chosen the release site by the Regent Honeyeater recovery team. The birds were reared at Taronga Zoo, with a hope that they’d provide a boost to the wild Regent Honeyeater population. Of the forty or so released birds, about half were fitted with radio transmitters. The monitoring program seems to be have been a great success, with most birds getting through the cold nights and some have put on weight since being released.

Recently I was surprised to hear a Scarlet Honeyeater calling near the mine. Tracking it down, it was a stunning scarlet-coloured male. Apparently, in the last couple of years, a couple of birds have been resident at Chiltern. Seeing it intrigued me, raising a number of questions. What was it doing here? In winter! Calling in winter! They’re normally a summer migrant to Victoria’s east-coast, inhabiting coastal temperate forests. Have these birds accidentally headed up the west-side of the Great Dividing Range, rather than the east (their normal migratory pathway)? Perhaps these are the birds seen in Melbourne in the summer of 2009/10. Upon reaching Chiltern they reached a habitat dead-end, unable to move north? Conversely, they stuck around because the eucalypts around Chiltern flower with regularity, enabling the, to hang on, albeit in very small numbers.

Typical roadside. A track bordered by Box-Ironbark

Frog’s Hollow
Frog’s Hollow (or Frog Hollow) is a pleasant small wetland and old dam that used to be a site of an early gold crusher. Located on the Barnawartha Rd ~3 km from Chiltern, it’s surrounded by River Red Gum. Like some of the other dam sites in Chiltern, the bird-life here can be prolific and at times almost deafening. It’s good site to add Australian Reed-Warbler and Little Grassbird to your Chiltern list, and one of the best site for White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, occasionally seen in the trees above the picnic ground. 

Klotz Track
This is a classic Box-Ironbark forest track that’s located in the north-east side of the park, accessed via Green Hill Rd, just past the Green Hill Dam. When the trees are flowering, it can be a great place for forests specialists. I usually stop here to look for Regent Honeyeater, looking anywhere flowers appear on the ground. Once I walked along Klotz Track for several hours looking for Regents, seeing Painted Button-quail, and Swift and Turquoise Parrot, but no Regents. Upon returning, a Regent Honeyeater was feeding in the tree directly above the car!

An odd bird to see in Chiltern. A Scarlet Honeyeater at the Magenta Dam

Ryans Road and the Barnawatha Treatment Plant
Ryans Rd has proved a real gem in the park. It runs along the northern edge, through excellent Box-Ironbark forest. Some of the honeyeaters recently recorded along Ryans Rd include Fuscous, Yellow-tufted, Black-chinned, White-naped, White-plumed, Brown-headed, Scarlet, Black, Regent and White-fronted (2nd record for Chiltern). Of course White-fronted and Black Honeyeater are normally semi-arid/Mallee woodland birds so, again – like the Scarlet – what are they doing here? It was only recently birders where speculating, and predicting, where in Australian you might see both Black and Scarlet Honeyeater together. Well, that place is Chiltern!

Recently I’ve spent quite a bit of time walking the hillsides adjacent to Ryans Rd. Almost without exceptions, each time I have, I’ve seen Painted Button-quail and Yellow-footed Antechinus (two highlights for the park) as well as Little Lorikeet, Common Bronzewing, Brown Goshawk, Restless Flycatcher, Scarlet and Eastern Yellow Robin, Jacky Winter, Golden Whistler, Spotted Pardalote, Dusky and, occasionally, White-browed Woodswallow, Varied Sittella and Crested Shrike-tit.  It’s worth scanning the treatment plant Ryans Rd for waterfowl, such as Grey and Chestnut Teal, Pacific Black Duck, Hardhead and at the moment Flame Robin (a winter visitor) are feeding in the grounds of the plant.

Pipeline Track 
Requiring high-clearance in places, the Pipeline Track is 4×4 track (X-Trail and Forester would be o.k). The track crosses a number of steep ridge lines, with the highest immediately north of the Magenta Mine. The top of the ridge is  a roosting area for Dusky, White-browed and, less commonly, Masked Woodswallow, particular summer and autumn.

Fishers Road
The roadside trees along Fishers Rd is a local site for Grey-crowned Babbler. Locate north-side of the park, the road is a significant roadside area, providing a high-value vegetation remnants, important for habitat linkages and connectivity. The Babbler’s are most often seen about half way between Chiltern-Howlong Rd and the old Howlong Rd, with the best way to find them to look for the distinctive collection of large dome, stick nests – most are alternative nests/roosting platforms.  The birds are usually nearby. Other birds I’ve seen along Fishers Rd include Dollarbird, many many Eastern Rosella, some Crimson Rosella including occasional Yellow ssp flaveolus, and several Yellow-footed Antechinus. 

Chiltern Valley No 1, No 2 Dams, and Wenkes Rd wetland
The Chiltern Valley No 1 Dam, a large old mining dam, is an excellent bird watching area. It’s accessed just before the corner of Wenkes Rd and Chiltern Valley Rd, ~3 km from Chiltern. Some of the waterfowl and waterbirds recorded here include Australian Shoveler and Musk, Pink-eared and, occasionally, Freckled Duck, Australasian, Hoary-headed and Great Crested (rare) Grebe, Latham’s Snipe (uncommon summer), Australasian Darter, White-necked Heron, Great Egret, Nankeen Night Heron, Great and Little Black Cormorant, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Red-kneed and Black-fronted Dotterel and Black-winged Stilt. Whistling Kite hunt over the dam, and look for other raptors such as Peregrine and Brown Falcon, Australian Hobby, Little, Wedge-tailed and, occasionally, White-bellied Sea-Eagle. It’s a particularly good spot to see White-breasted Woodswallow. In the River Red Gum bordering the dam, more common birds such Little Friarbird, Restless Flycatcher, and Crested Shrike-tit, foraging for insect on the loose bark. Pied Butcherbird, uncommon here, lives along the roadside in this area. Some of the other birds recorded here include Latham’s Snipe, Black-tailed Native-hen, Intermediate Egret, Budgerigar, Tree and Fairy Martin, Dollarbird, Rainbow Bee-eater and Masked Woodswallow.

Black-winged Stilt in Chiltern’s evening light.

I should have mentioned that just before you get to the turn-off to the No 1 Dam, it’s worth scanning the small wetland along Wenkes Rd. These are well-known for attracting skulking crakes and rails; Buff-banded Rail, Baillon’s, Australian Spotted and Spotless Crake, Black-tailed Native-hen and, more commonly, Purple Swamphen, Dusky Moorhen and Eurasian Coot have all been recorded. The best time to see them is during warmer months, when their food source, the invertebrates, are more active.

Chiltern Valley No.2 Dam is the largest wetland in the area. Another old mine dam, it’s an excellent birding wetland and there’s a nice bird hide to boot. Many of the species recorded at Dam 1 have also recorded here. The list includes Brolga, Latham’s Snipe, Intermediate Egret, Australasian Darter, Royal Spoonbill, Black-tailed Native-hen, Red-kneed Dotterel,White-breasted Woodswallow, Dollarbird, White-backed Swallow, Little Friarbird, Blue-faced Honeyeayer, Rainbow Bee-eater, Diamond Firetail and Double-barred Finch, the last seen recently by Michael Ramsey along Chiltern Valley Rd near the gate. Red-bellied Black Snake can be quite common, particularly in the Tall Sedge (Carex appressa) around the lake, so tread carefully in the grassy stuff. One thing this snake is hunting is Yellow-footed Antechinus. Quite common in the surrounding woodland – the diggings on the path just before the bird hide are theirs. It was nice to see that there’s a new metal bird hide at Dam 2 (thanks to the Friends of). Be careful, though, when closing the hide door – it makes a lot of noise.

The ever-present Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Lake Anderson and Lake Anderson Caravan Park
In terms of ‘birding’ accommodation, the cabins at the Lake Anderson Caravan Park are excellent. Lake Anderson is also the best place in the area to see Blue-faced Honeyeater and Little Friarbird. Other birds around the lake include Straw-necked and Sacred Ibis, Eastern and Crimson Rosella (occasionally Yellow ssp flaveolus), Rufous Whistler, Yellow-rumped and Yellow Thornbill and look for Eurasian Tree Sparrow.  Around the lake you can usually see Hardhead, Australian Wood Duck, Pacific Black Duck, Grey Teal, Mallard, Black-fronted Dotterel, White-necked and White-faced Heron, in summer, Australian Reed-Warbler and Little Grassbird, and the island is a roost site for Great, Little Pied and Little Black Cormorant and sometimes Nankeen Night Heron. 

Chiltern Golf Course
In summer, it’s worth walking along Howlong Rd on the edge of the golf course. In summer I’ve found it to be a particularly good spot for seeing White-throated Gerygone.  I reckon the golf course is under-bird watched. For instance I can find no bird lists for the golf course, probably because birders just don’t play golf (fair enough), a shame, golf course are generally an excellent bird habitat. I wonder how often Regent Honeyeater and Swift Parrot have used the trees along the fairways, and beside the greens, to feed. (In Melbourne, for instance, the Royal Park golf course is one of southern Victoria most reliable sites for seeing Swift Parrot.)

Golden Whistler. Yellow and black are a common colour theme for the birds at Chiltern.

Mt Pilot section and the summit
Mt Pilot is in the south-east section of the park. Part of the Barambogie-Mt Pilot Ranges (or the Barambogies), it differs from the northern section because it’s largely granite country. The difference in geology produces different habitat types to those in the Chiltern section, and therefore some different species of birds. The Mugga Ironbark are absent and the granite hills have extensive areas of native Black Cypress-pine.

If you are spending several days in Chiltern, or Beechworth, the 300m walk up to the open rocky granite summit of Mt Pilot is a must. It provides spectacular 360 degrees views, and gives you a real feel for the area. Scan updrafts above the forests and countryside for raptors such as Wedge-tailed and Little Eagle, Peregrine Falcon and there is a chance of Square-tailed Kite (cruising about the canopy between spring and autumn). In spring the walk up to the summit is covered in wildflowers. Your best chance of seeing a Spotted Quail-thrush is the woodlands around Mt Pilot – look for them feeding on the ground, particularly along ridge lines. The wetter forests of the Mt Pilot section favour birds such as Gang Gang Cockatoo, Leaden Flycatcher, Rufous Fantail, Rose Robin, Spotted Pardalote, Buff-rumped Thornbill, Chestnut-rumped Heathwren and White-browed Treecreeper, and night birds such as Owlet Nightjar, White-throated Nightjar, Southern Boobook and a possibility of Barking Owl.

Yeddonba (an aboriginal name for the Black Cypress-pine) is located at the western base of Mt Pilot. It is good site for smaller passerines such as Yellow (feeding in Silver Wattle around the car park), Buff-rumped, Striated and Brown Thornbill, Weebill and, in summer, Western and White-throated Gerygone. At night, it is also worth listening out for Barking Owl. I’ve heard and seen them here, and along Tovey’s Rd.  A few weeks ago there was a large group of Satin Bowerbird – surprisingly rare winter visitor to the park moved along Tovey’s Rd into a farm orchard. Yeddonba is also a great spot to see Chocolate Fringe-lily flowering in profusion around the car park in spring. It is really worth having a look at the Aboriginal red-ochre painting which is believed to be of a Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine), a species that became extinct on mainland Australia ~2000 years ago.

While in the Mt Pilot, section it’s worth visiting the Woodshed Falls. Five Minutes from Beechworth, the falls are spectacular after heavy rain. Mt Barambogie is also interesting. The forests are dominated by stingybark, Red Box and Blakely’s Red Gum. The summit, like Mt Pilot, is covered by large granite boulders. It’s accessible via a rough 4×4 track, unfortunately not-well sign-posted.

Speckled Warbler. Like the Painted Button-quail, it colours are the perfect camouflage on the forest floor

Summing up and more info
If you plan to visit Chiltern, aside from this report, it’s really worth tracking down some of the other literature available, in particularly Chris Tzaros’s a fantastic book entitled Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country, Sean Dooley wrote an excellent chapter on Chiltern in Where to See Birds in Victoria, Barry Trail produced a booklet entitled Bird Trails of Chiltern (13 pages), available free from the Chiltern Visitor Information Centre, and lookout for an article written in 1999 in the Australian Bird Watcher entitled ‘Current and past status of the birds of Chiltern – a Box-Ironbark forest in north-eastern Victoria.’ (1996, 16:309-326, Traill, B.J., E. Collins, P. Peake, S. Jessup). Although I haven’t looked at this article recently, for many years it was my essential resource when visiting the Chiltern. Further, individual sites in Chiltern are well-documented in Eremaea. There is also a range of excellent information on the Friend of Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park website – read through the archive of their newsletter. So (as mentioned at the beginning of this report) this is my personal, and slightly self-indulgent, take on this wonderful Box-Ironbark national park.

Dean Ingwersen, who, like me has spent quite a bit of time in Chiltern recently (as part of the Regent Honeyeater release program), described the park to me beautifully: “Chiltern’s a bit like a plum pudding. Incredibly rich, jam-packed full of wildlife and, in terms of the birds, you just don’t know what will turn up next!” Just after Dean said this, we both heard a White-fronted Honeyeater calling, a species normally associated with the semi-arid woodlands – the closest populations are easily 200 km away. A few minutes later I flushed a small covey of Painted Button-quail and then, another 15 minutes later I was looking at a spectacular Scarlet Honeyeater. What a place!

Tim Dolby

One thought on “Chiltern Winter 2013 – Australia’s best winter forest?

  1. Thank you for this excellent and very readable update on Chiltern. I hope to be there next month and the information will be enormously helpful.


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