The VicTwitch ’09 – a Victorian ‘Big Year’

Hudsonian Godwit, WTP, Jan 2009.

See below a progressive list and commentary – a dairy if you like – of all the bird species I saw Victoria during 2009. For the fun of it, and to raise money for the Australian Wildlife Health Centre,  my aim is to see over 330 species in Victoria during a calendar year, thus beating my 2006 record (see Birding Victoria 2006). Wish me luck!

In 2006 we didn’t do any pelagic trips, so in 2009 I also excluded from my list any birds seen while doing a pelagic i.e. while on offshore boat trip. If I had, my total would have been approximately 15 more bird species. However, to keep the playing field level, I excluded pelagic birds.

The year started extremely well. By the end of the first month I had seen 217 species including rarities such as Hudsonian Gotwit, Eastern Bristlebird, Australian Figbird, Masked Owl, Square-tailed Kite, Black Falcon, Ground Parrot, Pilotbird, White-headed and Topknot Pigeon, Beautiful Firetail and Lewin’s Rail.

[PO.jpg] JANUARY 2009

Toolangi
On a trip to Toolangi State Park i got on to Olive Whistler, Red-browed Treecreeper, Brush Cuckoo, Rose and Pink Robin, Pilotbird and there was a hundred or so White-throated Needletail circling overhead.

Most of these were seen along the areas between the turn-off and the quarry car park that runs adjacent to the east side of the Wirrawilla Rainforest Walk.

Hudsonian Godwit
On Sunday January 11 I was fortunate to be amongst a group of birders who first saw a Hudsonian Godwit at the Western Treatment Plant (WTP), a very rare vagrant to Australia. Amongst some of the other birds seen at the WTP that day were Glossy Ibis, Brolga, Cape Barren Goose, Common Tern, Wood Sandpiper, White-winged Black Tern, Lewin’s Rail, Spotted Crake, Buff-banded Rail, Singing Bushlark and Black Falcon.

On January 11, I also visited the nearby You Yangs Regional Park. From my experience the best birding spot are along Hovel Creek (on the far north section of the park), around the main park office, and near northern end of Toynes Rd. On the 11th I got onto Diamond Firetail, Rainbow Bee-eater, Restless Flycatcher, Jacky Winter, Purple-crowned Lorikeet, Scarlet Robin, Brown Treecreeper and Little Eagle.

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Pipeline Rd, Mallacoota: a good site for Beautiful Firetail, White-throated Gerygone, Southern Emu-wren and Brown Quail.

Croajingolong National Park
Anyone attempting to do a VicTwitch needs to spend some serious birdwatching time at Croajingolong National Park in Victoria’s far east. The best time to do this is late spring and summer, when all the east coast migrants arrive in the area. I spent two weeks at Croajingolong, visiting a number of excellent birding sites including doing bird surveys (for Birds Australia – Victoria) at Shipwreck Creek and Howe Flat.

It is interesting to note how site consistent birds are, even the east coast migrant species. A couple of years ago I recorded Beautiful Firetail and White-throated Gerygone on Pipeline Rd – near a small heathland area about a 500 metres from Mallacoota Rd. This year I got both species in almost exactly the same spot. A similar situation occurred with Topknot Pigeon, Eastern Reef Egret and Cicadabird, all seen at exactly the same sites I’d seen them previously. Birds of note seen at Croajingolong were:

  • White-headed Pigeon: 5 birds seen flying from the walking track west of Gypsy Point boat ramp (end of Macdonalds St), and another 5 roosting briefly in trees. Unlikely to be same birds.
  • Topknot Pigeon: 15 birds seen on walking track east of Gypsy Point boat ramp (end of Macdonalds St).
  • Eastern Reef Egret: grey-phased bird seen over a number of days, one in transit, and also on rocks south of tip beach – probably same bird. Another birder said he’d seen a grey bird several days earlier on rocks at Bastion Point.
  • White-bellied Sea-Eagle: several birds seen around Mallacoota Inlet, and 5 birds (including nest) north east of the Goodwin Sands, seen while on the “Loch Ard” historic ferry.
  • Glossy Black-Cockatoo: 2 birds seen on New Bins Rd near intersection of Duncan Rd, just inside the Victorian border.
  • White-throated Needletail: flock of 50+ birds seen flying above dunes at Howe Flat, occasionally only several feet above the dune. Also smaller flocks at Shipwreck Creek and Mallacoota.
  • Scarlet Honeyeater: reasonably common during my stay, although in smaller numbers than the previous few years.
  • Eastern Bristlebird: 1 male bird seen well at Howe Flat on Howe Flat Track 100 metres up from small boardwalk.
  • White-throated Gerygone: single bird on Watertrust Rd (shown as Pipeline Rd on Google Map), opposite the heathland area on right hand side.
  • Cicadabird: single male bird Davis Creek, near bridge on Betka Rd. Also Howe Flat.
  • Beautiful Firetail: one bird Watertrust Rd in grassy area between road and section of heathland (500 metres from Mallacoota Rd) and about 15 feet in. Another bird heard in reedy creek near locked gate on Watertrust Rd.
  • Australian Figbird: one in large a Fig Tree at the foreshore campground on just west of Capt Stevensons Pt. Another bird heard near houses at Shady Gully Bridge.
  • Black-faced Monarch: found in most wet gullies around Croajingolong.
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Cabbage Tree Creek Flora Reserve – the site of Victoria’s  only native palm (Livistona australis) – is also a good place to see Topknot Pigeon, Square-tailed Kite, Black-faced Monarch, Brown Gerygone and Scarlet Honeyeater.

Prior to arriving in Croajingolong I spent two days with my family in Marlo (January 16-17) and visiting in the nearby Cape Conran Conservation Park and Cabbage Tree Creek Flora Reserve. Following up on a tip from a birding friend I saw: Masked Owl – a single owl on the Cabbage Tree Conran Rd; and Square-tailed Kite – seen a couple of times (possibly same bird) along Marlo Rd, on north side about 2 km west of Cape Conran.

To sum up the month of January I did birding trips to – in chronological order – Toolangi (an area since burnt-out on the 7th of February), Western Treatment Plant (twice), You Yangs, Cape Conran, Cabbage Tree Creek Flora Reserve, Croajingolong and Cape Howe Wilderness Area, which borders Nadgee Reserve in NSW, and I’d seen 217 species in Victoria during January.

FEBRUARY 2009

Bellarine Peninsula
By the end of February I’d netted 19 new species to my list. The month started with a trip to Reedy Lake near Geelong. The date was the 7th of February, now known as Black Saturday. I was staying near Port Arlington on the Bellarine Peninsula and after the weather changed I did a birding trip to Reedy Lake (between 7:00pm to 8:30pm), accessed via Moolap Station Rd from the Bellarine Hwy. To my surprise (considering the oppressive heat, 48 degrees, and the 60 km winds) the wetlands had good amounts of water and literally thousands of waterbirds. On the way in, in the wheat paddock next to the dirt section of the road (south side) there was a flock of 50 Magpie Geese, 3 Brolga, and 500+ Australian Shelduck. Once at the wetland, on track leading south there was large numbers of Black-winged Stilt, at least 20 Magpie Geese (many flying), waders including Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Greenshank. On the track leading west (i.e. straight ahead) of the (grubby) car park, after a short walk to the waters edge there was large numbers of waterbirds, including an Australasian Bittern, flushed from the left. My feeling is that this site is an oasis in a large area of dried wetlands. My thoughts are with the families affected by the fires. Also seen on the Bellarine Peninsula that day were Latham’s Snipe at Lake Lorne and Black-faced Cormorant at Point Lonsdale.

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You beauty! Eastern Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla tschutschensis) at the WTP

Northcote
In Melbourne I got onto Northern Mallard and Scaly-breasted Lorikeet near home in Northcote, and during a bird survey for the Friends of Merri Creek (February 15) in Brunswick I recorded Song Thrush and Eurasian Tree Sparrow – both seen near CERES , which is one of the best places in Australia to see these two exotic species.

Long Forest Nature Conservation Reserve
On a side trip to Ballarat February 20 I dropped into the Long Forest Nature Conservation Reserve near Bacchus Marsh. With my 3 year old son James in toe, I ended up seeing 2 Speckled Warbler in the area between the Happy Valley car park and the small dam just to the north. Also seen was a small flock of Yellow Thornbill and an enormous flock (500+) of Long-billed Corella – the noise was almost deafening!

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Mud Islands central lagoon: highlights were Grey-tailed Tattler, Lesser Sand Plover, Grey Plover, Red & Great Knot, Little & Fairy Tern & large numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail, WTP
The latest news is that (February 25) I’ve just seen another Victorian vagrant, an Eastern Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla tschutschensis) at the Western Treatment Plant, seen at about 12:20pm on rocks near the triangular navigation sign, where the track crosses the rocky beach. This was my 4th visit to the WTP for the year. What a great bird – I love Yellow Wagtails! Eastern Yellow Wagtails even more. (I’ve now seen Yellow Wagtail on 3 different continents). This takes my progressive total to 227.

Mud Island and Port Phillip
On Saturday February 28 I did a boat trip to Mud Islands in Port Phillip (part of the Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park) with BAYBOCA. On the way out to the islands I added 4 new bird species to my year list, White-faced Storm-Petrel, Fluttering Shearwater, Arctic Jaeger (seen in good numbers including quite a few pale morph birds) and Fairy Tern. At Mud Islands I added another 6 species, all waders. These were Grey-tailed Tattler, Lesser Sand Plover, Grey Plover, Double-banded Plover, Red Knot and Ruddy Turnstone. There were also literally hundreds (500+) of Bar-tailed Godwit, including a few in full red breeding plumage. This brought my total up to 237 – an excellent way to finish the month.

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White-faced Storm-Petrel – dead on Sorrento Pier.

For the record, during February I did birding trips to the Bellarine Peninsula twice (visiting trips Reedy Lake, Lake Lorne, Point Henry, Moolap Saltworks and Point Lonsdale), the Western Treatment Plant (twice in February, and four times for year), Merri Creek in Brunswick, Long Forest Reserve, Wombat State Forest and Mud Islands, and added 19 new species to my Victorian list.

MARCH 2009

Little Bittern and Mill Park Lakes
On Saturday March 7, following up on a report of a Little Bittern in a suburban wetland at Mill Park Lakes, I saw the Bittern in the area opposite the main real estate office! (What sort of bird is this – a rarity that likes to hang out in new housing estates?) Little Bittern was a species I was not confident of seeing in 2009, being both rare and cryptic. Also seen at the wetland were Buff-banded Rail, Darter, Black-winged Stilt, Baillon’s Crake (a new bird for the year list) and Spotted Crake. Another good start to the month.

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Apollo Bay and Otways Ranges
On Friday the 13th with family and friends I travelled to Apollo Bay in the Otways Ranges for a long weekend. We spent 4 days in the area – a perfect amount of time to do some casual birding, and it rained off and on for the entire time we were there – contrasting sharply with the weather we’d been having in Victoria over the last few months. In the breaks of rain the birdlife came alive.

[creek.jpg] Grey Goshawk
Over the 4 days two Grey Goshawk (both white morph) were seen. This was the main species I was targeting in Apollo Bay – if I didn’t see it here I would have to spend a day at Ralph Illidge Sanctuary, a Trust for Nature on the north side of the Otways, or around Separation Creek on the Great Ocean Rd, a place I’d regularly seen Grey Goshawk. (Interestingly a Grey Goshawk was seen in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne at the very time I was in Apollo Bay – I didn’t target it because I knew I was spending the weekend in the Otways.)

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Poor image of Grey Goshawk seen along the Old Hordern Vale Rd

The first Grey Goshawk seen was on the Old Hordern Vale Rd, an excellent site for this species. I’d actually seen white-morph Grey Goshawk along the Old Hordern Vale Rd (really a track / walking path) when I was 19 in 1986. At the time I’d specifically targeted this site because it was just the right size (in terms of the size of the forested area) to support a pair Grey Goshawk. I camped along the track with my then girl-friend, now my wife hoping to find a nesting pair (at the time she seemed impressed). Which we did. The Old Hordern Vale Rd is a really interesting birding site, an excellent example of old growth forest, with some very large old Manna Gum along its path. If you are interested going there it can be accessed via its two ends: 1. along the Great Ocean Rd, about 7 km north of Apollo Bay – turn right down the sign-posted road until you come to a big gate with a red brick fence – the track is immediately left of the fence; 2. or from the Burham Valley Rd – about 5 km out of town, just after the Burham River bridge you’ll find the southern end of the Old Hordern Vale Rd, walk up this to the Great Ocean Rd (about 5 or so km). A second Grey Goshawk was seen briefly flying over the forested area just west of Mariners Lookout (which has great views and an accompanying big white horse). Also seen at Mariners Lookout was Striated Fieldwren, calling loudly atop of scrub just below the southern face.

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View down the valley on the Old Hordern Vale Rd

Some of the other species seen in the area included:

  • Olive Whistler were heard twice – once from the heathy area between beach and the main street of Apollo Bay (Great Ocean Rd), although I’d seen and heard Olive Whistler this year, it was really nice to hear it at this site; and I also heard an Olive Whistler calling while driving along the Great Ocean Rd approx. 10km east of Apollo Bay.
  • Rufous Bristlebird were common along most of the Great Ocean Rd, specifically areas bordered by coastal heath. I had excellent view of this species at the Wye River toilet area. Rufous Bristlebird was also heard at Paradise Picnic area, which is about 10 km inland of Apollo Bay
  • Hooded Plover, 2 birds on beach near the Hooded Plover notification fence, half-way between Apollo Bay and Skenes Creek.
  • Blue-winged Parrot, 5 birds sitting on powerlines near Petticoat Creek.
  • Rose Robin and Bassian Thrush on Burham Valley Rd, both seen at the car park at end of Burham Valley Rd, a really nice spot for birding, particularly around the small bridge.
  • Up to a dozen Black-faced Cormorant in the harbour of Apollo Bay. Surprisingly there were also 3 Domestic Geese (Anser anser domesticus, domesticated Greylag Geese) in the harbour – not what I’d expected to see!
  • Raptors were in particularly good numbers around Apollo Bay, with Collared Sparrowhawk, Brown Goshawk, Black-shouldered Kite, Nankeen Kestrel, Wedge-tailed Eagle, and (as mentioned) Greg Goshawk all seen in or within a cooee of the town.
  • Along with a dozen or so Black-faced Cormorant and 3 Domestic Geese, Apollo Bay Harbour.

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Bellarine Peninsula, Point Addis and the Ironbark Basin Nature Reserve
Over the weekend 28/29 March I visited the Bellarine Peninsula, Point Addis and the Ironbark Basin Nature Reserve.

On the peninsula I picked up to new species for the year – a single Freckled Duck at Mcleods Wetland Reserve in Drysdale. (Note: Freckled Duck are normally found at Lake Lorne in Drysdale, however this was nearly complete dry). I also saw several Cattle Egret in grasslands near Barwon Heads.

Point Addis is one of Victoria’s best sea watching vantage points – and an excellent place to see Albatross. For the year I saw my first Shy Albatross (surprisingly I hadn’t seen this species earlier as they’re relatively common) and also 4 Fairy Prion. I also heard several Rufous Bristlebird, which can be quite common in the car park.

After Point Addis I traveled to the nearby Ironbark Basin Nature Reserve, which aside from being an excellent site for woodland birds such as Buff-rumped Thornbill, Restless Flycatcher, Varied Sitella, Gang-gangs and Scarlet Robin, it has also been known to have a healthy population of Painted Button-quail. Unfortunately, despite four hours of search I didn’t see any – and I also didn’t see any fresh platelets, saucer shape marks left on the ground by button-quail when they feed.

This brings my tally of birds for the year to 249, adding 12 species during March. During the month I visited Mill Park Lakes, Apollo Bay in the Otways Ranges, the Mornington Peninsular, and Point Addis and the Ironbark Basin Nature Reserve – a fairly quiet month.

The Ironbark Basin Reserve

Next month (April) should begin well. During the mid-term break I have planned trips to Terrick Terrick NP, the Grampians NP, Little Desert NP, Wyperfeld NP, Bronzewing FFR, and the Murray Sunset NP!! So far I have basically clean up all the southern Victorian birds (with the exception of a few night birds) and the trip north should boost my total enormously! I’m looking forward to it.

Current Total: 310

APRIL 2009

Birding northern Victoria
I’ve just returned from a two week birding trip around northern Victoria. This was the first time that I’d ventured into inland Victoria during 2009. Approx. 3000 km, great fun, fantastic habitats, a great insight into the state of birds in inland Victoria and, of course, completely crazy.

The basic route of a journey followed:

  • Traveling from Melbourne, via Greater Bendigo National Park, to Terrick Terrick National Park as part of the Birds Australia survey and campout
  • From Terrick Terrick National Park I traversed central Victoria, via Boort, Wedderburn, St Arnaud and Stawell, to the Grampian National Park for a holiday with family and friends.
  • Then, linking up with friend Greg Oakley, birding the Little Desert National Park, Telopea Downs near the South Australian border (just south of the Big Desert), Wyperfeld National Park (south and north), Bronzewing Flora and Flora Reserve, Timberoo Reserve, Murray Sunset National Park, Hattah-Kulkyne National Park, and then finally down to Lake Tyrrell and back to Melbourne.
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The Whipstick, Greater Bendigo National Park.

Some of the birding highlights for the northern Victoria trip included Swift Parrot, Purple-gaped, Black-chinned and Striped Honeyeater, Crested Bellbird, Plains Wanderer, Little Button-quail, Black Falcon, Grey-crowned and Chestnut-crowned Babbler, Spotless and Baillon’s Crake, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Speckled Warbler, White-backed Swallow, Slender-billed Thornbill, Spotted Nightjar and a daytime Owlet Nightjar, Redthroat, White-browed Treecreeper, Chestnut Quail-thrush, 4 four fairy-wren species (White-winged, Splendid, Variegated and Superb), Mallee Emu-wren, Striated Grasswren and Rufous Fieldwren. In the north I added 55 new species, taking my total at the end of the trip to 304.
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Greater Bendigo National Park
Visited 3 different sections of the park: the southern section near Diamond Creek Nature Reserve (looking for Chestnut-rumped Heathwren – dipped), and the Whipstick and Kamarooka sections in the north of the park. Birds of note included Crested Bellbird, Swift Parrot and Peaceful Dove along Angle Rd, Inland Thornbill, Yellow-plumed and Purple-gaped Honeyeater along Boundary Rd, and Fuscous and Yellow-tufted Honeyeater along Diamond Hill Rd (south Greater Bendigo). Despite looking long and hard I couldn’t track down Chestnut-rumped Heathwren. (VicTwitch ticks: 8)

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Female Plains Wanderer at Terrick Terrick National Park.

Terrick Terrick National Park
As part of the Birds Australia Easter Campout, some of the birds seen included Plains Wanderer, Little Button-quail, Stubble Quail, Singing Bushlark and Banded Lapwing in the grassy area north east of the park, and in the grassy woodlands large numbers of Southern Whiteface, White-browed Woodswallow, Hooded and Red-capped Robin, Tree Martin, Mallee Ringneck, 10 Swift Parrot, Crested Shrike-tit, Varied Sitella (‘black capped’ ssp), good numbers of Gilbert’s Whistler, Black-chinned Honeyeater, Restless Flycatcher, Peaceful Dove, Varied Sittella, Chestnut-rumped and Yellow Thornbill. I also had close views of a glorious pair of Black Falcon along Leahys Rd, two happy families of Grey-crowned Babbler (numbering 6 and 3) along Bendigo Creek near Wasons Rd.
(VicTwitch ticks: 15)

Lake Tutchewop
White-winged Fairy-wren and Black-faced Woodswallow.
(VicTwitch ticks: 2)

 

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A pair of Black Falcon near Terrick Terrick National Park.

Goschen FFR and Lake Boga
Expectedly fairly quiet, with no flowering Eremophila (Long-leafed Emu-bush). Birds seen included Blue Bonnet, Pied Butcherbird, and a Owlet Nightjar seen during the day, sitting nicely in it mallee tree hole. Nearby Lake Boga was complete dry. There were several White-breasted Woodswallow on powerlines in the main street of Lake Boga, and earlier I saw Blue-faced Honeyeater in Kerang.
(VicTwitch ticks: 4)

Little Lake Boort
Easter tennis tournament meant the township of Boort was full, and I think I was the only person for miles around to notice several Spotless and Baillon’s Crake feeding on the mudflats at Little Lake Boort 😉
(VicTwitch ticks: 1)

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Mudflats at Little Lake Boort. Baillon’s Crake on the right.

Grampians National Park and Wartook State Forest
On the west side of the Grampians I recorded large numbers of Emu, Gang-gang Cockatoo, Rose Robin, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, possible Square-tailed Kite, Speckled Warbler, Red-capped and Hooded Robin. Also Red Deer several times. Cherrypool (part of the Glenelg River system) was just that – a swimming pool sized area of water. Cherrypool is a well-known aboriginal swimming hole, with aboriginal people swimming and living there for the last 10,000+ years. It has probably never been dry. Water Rat was also seen in the last remains of the pool.
(VicTwitch ticks: 1)

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Wartook State Forest, on the west side of the Grampians National Park. Excellent open woodland birding with species such as White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Speckled Warbler, Hooded Robin, Diamond Firetail and Square-tailed Kite are there. Red Deer is also relatively common at Wartook.

Little Desert National Park
White-backed Swallow, seen south of the Little Desert, on the Nhill-Harrow Rd, and Slender-billed Thornbill (3), White-fronted and Tawny-crowned Honeyeater were seen in the heathy areas around the intersection of the Nhill-Harrow Rd and Dahlenburgs Tk.
(VicTwitch ticks: 4)

Telopea Downs
A very brief visit to the area and nothing of note was seen. I was targeting Australian Bustard, which breeds in the area, however I dipped. The area around Telopea Downs was fascinating, with open paddock and grasslands interspersed with Grass Trees and Triodia. It is well worth some further investigation and serious time in the area.
(VicTwitch ticks: 0)

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Dawn at the base of Mt Mattingley, Wyperfeld National Park. A good place to see Redthroat and Southern Scrub-robin.

Wyperfeld National Park
On the way into southern Wyperfeld (at night) Spotted Nightjar was flushed along Park Rd into Wyperfeld, and on the way out (during the day) there was a dozen or so White-backed Swallow approx. 5 km from the entrance to the park (near a working quarry). Inside Wyperfeld was a single Striped Honeyeater next to the rangers office, Redthroat and Southern Scrub-robin at the beginning of the Lake Brambuk walk (southern base of Mt Mattingley), and along the Dattuck Tk Splendid and Variegated Fairy-wren, Mulga Parrot, Mallee Ringneck and Red-capped Robin were seen. In northern Wyperfeld near the Casuarina Campground Splendid Fairy-wren and Chestnut-rumped Thornbill were seen on the hillside/sand-dune immediately east of the campground.
(VicTwitch ticks: 10)

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A superb example Triodia (Spinifex) on the Dattuck Track, Wyperfeld National Park.

Walpeup Lake – Timberoo Reserve (Timberoo Flora and Pine Log Tank Reserve)
Walpeup Lake is fed from the Wimmera Stock and Domestic Supply System. Timberoo protects a rare example of Native Pine-Buloke woodland, which because it grows on fertile loamy sands has mostly been cleared elsewhere. As a consequence it is also one of the best sites in Victoria to see White-browed Treecreeper (the other being Yarrara FFR, north of the Murray-Sunset NP), which can be seen around the northern section of Walpeup Lake along Mclivena Rd.
(VicTwitch ticks: 1)

Bronzewing Reserve
Chestnut Quail-thrush was seen about 2 km into the reserve from the north side i.e. via Merrett Rd (and 5 km west of the Sunraysia Hwy). Searched for Malleefowl, seeing numerous tracks, but no bird. (VicTwitch ticks: 1)

Murray-Sunset National Park
Targeted Red-lored Whistler along Honeymoon Hut Track and dipped. The area was extremely quiet birdwise, and Wymlet Tank was dry. This was the first time I not seen or heard Red-lored Whistler along the Honeymoon Hit Tk. It probably related to the time of year – rather that a restriction of the species territory.
(VicTwitch ticks: 0)

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Malleefowl tracks at Bronzewing Reserve

Hattah-Kulkyne National Park
Camped at Lake Hattah campground – the lake was dry. At night we heard Barn Owl and Boobook Owl and Owlet Nightjar. In the morning there were large numbers of parrots around the campground including Major Mitchell’s (only 2) and Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Galah, Little Corella, Regent Parrot and Yellow Rosella, and, of course, we were entertained by a 20+ family of Apostlebird, who appeared magically second after we started breakfast. Along the Nowingi Track we quickly got onto both Mallee Emu-wren and Striated Grasswren (in the same place), with both species seeming to be having a good year. From the Nowingi we headed down the Konardin Track (which had recently suffered fires) to the Mournpall Track and saw Chestnut-crowned Babbler between Eagles Nest and Raak Tracks. (VicTwitch ticks: 7)

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A fairly standard view of a Striated Grasswren. Brief and fleeting.

Lake Tyrrell
Rufous Fieldwren (2) were seen in Salt Bush plantation between the lookout and the lake (near intersection on Baileys Rd and Lake Tyrrell Rd) – and there were large numbers of Blue Bonnet in the south-east corner.
(VicTwitch ticks: 1)

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Rufous Fieldwren, Lake Tyrrell.

Northern Victoria in Summary
Without wanting to state the obvious, conditions in northern Victoria are extremely dry. There was virtually no natural water in the states lakes, bores, dams, streams and rivers. Literally the only water I encountered was through irrigation and water allocation – such as a few dams. Despite fantastic views of a pair of Black Falcon (at Terricks) there was a general lack of raptors throughout the state. For example I saw no Spotted Harrier and very few other birds of prey (such as Black Kite). Diversity of woodland birds was fairly good, however numbers were low. I also saw no Chestnut-rumped Fieldwren and Red-lored Whistler at my usual sites. On a positive note the robins appeared to be doing reasonably well, for example I saw more Scarlet Robin than I’ve seen in years, and further north Hooded and Red-capped were regularly encountered. White-backed Swallow were also seen in good numbers, and both Mallee Emu-wren and Striated Grasswren appear to be doing well at Hattah.

Conglomerate Flora and Fauna Reserve
Saturday April 25, with my brother Nic (an archaeologist, who wanted to check out some sites), I visited the little known Conglomerate Flora and Fauna Reserve (formally Conglomerate Gully Reserve) near Riddle’s Creek. Located at the south-east end of the Macedon Ranges (about 50 km from Melbourne), the park contains a magnificent rocky gorge. Although the birds were thin on the ground (not surprisingly for this time of year), there were a few nice mixed flocks which included species such as Scarlet and Eastern Yellow Robin, Buff-rumped Thornbill, Varied Sittella (‘orange-winged’ ssp), White-eared, White-naped, Yellow-faced and Brown-headed Honeyeater.

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Conglomerate Flora and Fauna Reserve near Riddle’s Creek.

MAY 2009
So far in May I’ve had a couple of trips out of Melbourne, one to Daylesford and in the process scored my first Flame Robin for the year. It was perhaps unusual to see this ‘common’ bird so late in the year – however May is exactly the time that they start dispersing into the lowland areas of Victoria, and a few migrating from Tasmania.

Western Treatment Plant
I also did another trip to the Western Treatment Plant (my fifth for the year) to see if I could get onto Orange-bellied Parrot and perhaps Pectoral Sandpiper. It was too early for the former and a couple of weeks too late for the later. Despite dipping on both it was really good to catch up with Mick and Steve Roderick (members of the hopeless Hunter Home Brewers twitchathon team, a team I directly compete with each year for the title of national twitchathon champion) who’d been stranded in Victoria due to the cancellation of the Port Fairy pelagic trip. Their compensation for not doing the pelagic was twitching Rufous Bristlebird at Point Addis.

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T-Section lagoon at Western Treatment Plant

 Dight Falls and Westgate Park
On the 14th of May I followed up on two little cripplers, a male Mandarin Duck at Dight Falls in Collingwood – a stunner, behaving much like a New Zealand Blue Duck, ducking in and out of the rock just below the falls (see image) – and a Diamond Dove at Westgate Park, in lawn area south of main lake, which was shy and flighty.

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Although not ‘tickable’, a Mandarin Duck at Dights Falls was a pleasant surprise.

(Please note that the Diamond Dove at Westgate was one of half a dozen birds seen in the Greater Melbourne area, and Mike Carter suggests that they are wild birds! In theory therefore, I can actually tick this for my Victorian total?
(308 birds if accepted).

Flagstaff Gardens
On the May 19th with friend Fiona Parkin, I followed up on a report of a Powerful Owl in the Flagstaff Gardens, finding the bird in a large Elm in the central part of the park. In some ways it is unusual for me not to have seen (or heard) this bird much earlier in the year. For instance I usually easily get in at a number of sites, such as in Mallacoota at the bridge at the bottom of Shady Gully, however for whatever reason I had dipped at all my previous sites. 

[PO.jpg] Western Treatment Plant
On Sunday 24th May I chased up a report of a Banded Stilt at the T-section at the WTP (6th visit for the year). I dipped on the Stilt but did get a bonus rarity, a Little Stint at the Spit. After entering the gate at the Spit, it was seen in the first pond on the right (4:30pm).

Good numbers of Red-necked Stint were arriving (for the evening) at these re-worked ponds – the Little Stint was with, but seemed not to associate with the Red-necked Stint. It often feeds on its own – moving about quickly – and at one point was the only stint on the pond. The Little Stint was distinctively more chestnut in colour, with orange-rufous coloured wing feathers including outer wing feathers, and white V line around the back (310). A nice bonus bird, and particularly pleasing that got onto this uncommon species first. Other birds of interest seen at the nearby T-Section included Black-tailed Native-hen, Great Crested Grebe and Cape Barren Goose.

It’s becoming harder and harder to see new species in Victoria – and I’m now forced to target individual species in distant places. However my total now is a very respectable 309 / or 310 if I accept the Diamond Dove at Westgate Park. Only 26 species to go in 7 months.

[Red-necked+Stint.jpg] I’m starting to question my Little Stint sighting (sacrilege I know) – however there’s been no following reports since I saw the bird last Sunday. A difficult bird to identify at the best of times, and although I thought I had identified most of the key features (particularly the rufous colored outer-wing feather), without a follow up report I may have to remove this bird from my list. I’ve already had a few people question my report – mainly because they’d dipped – the last thing I need for a year list to controversy.

Westgarth, Melbourne
On Friday morning I had great “inner Melbourne birding walk”. Left for work early and decided to walk along the bike path beside the railway line in Westgarth. The walk started with Musk and Rainbow Lorikeet and a calling family (20+) of Pied Currawong, and a Song Thrush in the local gardens.

Then along the bike path a male Collared Sparrowhawk made a mad dash into someone’s front garden. While trying to locate the bird, an Australasian Hobby flew over and landed on a TV antenna nearby (perhaps attracted by the commotion and noise created by the Sparrowhawk). To top it off 5 Little Lorikeet flew overhead. An excellent mornings birding in any context.

JUNE 2009
 

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Orange-bellied Parrot habitat at the Borrow Pits, WTP. On this day unfortunately I dipped.

Locked in the WTP
It’s been an interesting few weeks – with a few minor disasters and only one new birds. Another trip to the Western Treatment Plant (number 7 for the year) and another dip. No OBPs. I’d had a report of 5 Orange-bellied Parrot being seen at the Borrow Pits, so I spent the afternoon (May 31st) having a look, with no luck. Of interest were 4 White-bellied Sea-Eagle (3 adults and one immature bird), a few White-winged Black-Tern and Black-tailed Native-hen.

By the end of the afternoon a thick fog settled in on wetlands and there was a complete white-out. The place looked like an old English movie set on the English moors. Somehow, somewhere I also managed to lose my key and was locked in!!! After some text messaging (I was nearly out of money on my phone) and a few phone calls my friend John Harris came to my rescue with his key and let me out. By this time it was well after dark and I was sure I heard the eerie sound of the “Sewage Beast of the Farm” which apparently roams the Western Treatment Plant after dark eating birdwatchers who’ve accidentally locked themselves in.

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Locked in the WTP after losing my G2 key.

 Kamarooka and Brown Honeyeater
Then on the Wednesday 3rd of June I went for the Brown Honeyeater that had just been re-seen in Kamarooka. I could not have chosen a worse day. It absolutely belted down with rain and I had little or no chance seeing anything, let alone a rare Victorian vagrant honeyeater. To make matters worse I got bogged (when I stopped to have a look at a Brush Bronzewing) and had to dig myself out by hand!!! That being said I did see a likely / possible suspect, but the heavy rain made it far too hard to determine, so unfortunately it’s a big dip on Brown Honeyeater. There was also heaps of Fuscous and immature Fuscous HE, with every second bird (in the rain) looking just like a Brown Honeyeater. It’s tough work this birding game – last Sunday I got locked into a sewage farm chasing Orange-bellied Parrot and then I get bogged chasing a stupid Brown Honeyeater.

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Bogged at Kamarooka, after stopping to look at a Brush Bronzewing.

For people seeking the honeyeater it’s been seen at the old eucalyptus oil distillery dams on Campell’s Road, about 600 metres west from the Bendigo – Tennyson Road. Kamarooka, now part of the Greater Bendigo National Park is about 30km north of Bendigo. The Brown Honeyeater was first seen on the 30/3, and it has been seen sparingly since with the last report the 31/5, just three days before I went to see it. Interestingly Brown Honeyeater was actually reported Kamarooka in 2008, however the person who saw the bird couldn’t believe his eyes, so reported it as a ‘possible’ Brown Honeyeater, a sensible thing to do, as most birders would just laugh at a report like this without some sort of evidence such as a photographs.

The old distillery dam is actually an excellent place to birdwatch, especially when Yellow Gum, Blue Mallee (small blue grey leaves) and Kamarook Mallee (with squared fruit and buds) are in bloom. Other honeyeaters that have been recently observed at this site included White-fronted, Purple-gaped, Yellow-plumed, White-plumed, Brown-headed, Tawny-crowned, White-eared, Yellow-tufted, Yellow-faced and Fuscous. You can also see Red-capped Robin, Inland Thornbill, Brush Bronzewing (the bird responsible for me become bogged), and the yellow-rumped form of Spotted Pardalote. There are also areas with Melaleuca and other low shrubs, forming dense areas of ‘Whipstick Scrub, an excellent place to see Shy Heathwren. While there I had a pair of Shy Heathwren and Variegated Fairy-wren beside the road at the intersection of Campbell’s Road and Bendigo – Tennyson Road.

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A Brown Honeyeater was seen in this tree several days before I missed seeing it.

Kenneth River
Over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend (6-8 June) with family I travelled down to the Kenneth River in the Otways, staying in a house with great views of the Southern Ocean. As you can imagine, I spent many hours with my Zeiss binos looking out to sea. Albatross were reasonably plentiful, and there were a few dark shearwater species.

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A side-window view from Kenneth River – a productive way to look for seabirds/inshore pelagic species is to check the area behind large ships.

Here’s a bit of a rundown of the seabirds seen by me while staying at Kenneth River.

  • Australasian Gannet, common 100+ close to shore.
  • Crested Tern, common 50+ close to shore.
  • Silver Gull, very common close to shore +100 (close to shore).
  • Little Pied Cormorant 5.
  • Pacific Gull 10+.
  • Albatross sp. included Black-browed Albatross 50+, Shy Albatross 30+, Yellow-nosed Albatross and a possible Wandering Albatross, albeit too far out to determine things such upper wing pattern.
  • Short-tailed Shearwater 20+ and at least a few other dark, slightly different petrel sp. about the same size – possibly Great-winged Petrel.
  • Some Prion sp 10, with inshore sp. usually Fairy.
  • Southern Giant-Petrel, excellent and reasonably close views of an adult dark bird with a light/whitish head. Distinguished by its large size and substantial bill, slight hump backed appearance and short tail.

Therefore, despite the potential for 4 new species/ticks for the year, I ended up with 2, Yellow-nosed Albatross and Southern Giant-Petrel.

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A very distant Yellow-nosed Albatross

If you’re staying in the Kenneth River, or any of the nearby towns, such as Wye River, Apollo Bay and Lorne, I highly recommend a trip to the Grey River Rd Picnic area, about 6 km up Grey River Rd from Kenneth River. The road up to the picnic area has become well known for the large number of Koalas seen along the roadside – and they are extremely common throughout the area. (For example we had four Koalas in trees right next to our house in Kenneth River. ) The picnic area is surrounded by un-spoilt / pristine forest and fern gullies and in summer can be a good way get away from the midday heat. Places visited in Victoria (so far) during 2009. The picnic ground is also an excellent place to see some of the Otway bird specialties such as Crescent Honeyeater, Bassian Thrush, King Parrot, Gang-gang Cockatoo and Satin Bowerbird. Also at night the picnic becomes alive with the calls of large numbers of Yellow-tailed Gliders and Koalas. There is also a wonderful glow worms display along the road side just before the bridge. Absolutely brilliant!

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Wonderful wet forest gullies along Grey River Rd, near Kenneth River in the Otway Ranges National Park.

There have been a couple darker coloured/breeding plumage stints at the Spit at the Western Treatment Plant, Victoria. (One of the birds has an injured leg.) After careful analysis the latest news is that it’s been concluded that both birds are Red-necked Stint not Little Stint. So unless another Little Stint turns up I’d suggest my record of a Little erroneous. I’d suspected this earlier, mainly due to a lack of follow-up sightings. So this means that I’m now one bird down in terms of my 2009 Victorian list, currently sitting at 311 for the year. These things happen, c’est la vie. I might have to chase the silly Brown Honeyeater in Kamarooka again, again!

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A birders family, in this case, sea-birdwatching.

Bellarine Peninsula
After an extremely quiet month during June, July has started to pick up pace. After having a Portland pelagic boat trip cancelled (twice) I decided to chase a couple of bird species reported recently on the Bellarine Peninsula – Banded Stilt and Sanderling.

There’d been a report of Banded Stilt at Point Henry near Geelong. This was a species that had virtually disappeared from Victoria during the first six months of 2009. Banded Stilt have a habit of migrating into inland Australia periodically to breed. However it is very unusual for no birds to be present in Victoria. I’d previously gone a Banded Stint that was seen at the T-section of the WTP last month, but dipped. So when some birds turned up at Moolap Salt Farm on Point Henry I decided to try and see them. Looking in from a car park near the end of Point Henry (next to a small man made hill), there was a large flock of Black-winged Stilt and a few Banded Stilt could be seen with them.

Moolap is usually a good place to see Banded Stilt, often seen in large numbers. For example during the 2006 Twitchathon my Twitchathon team (myself, Greg Oakley and Fiona Parkin) saw a flock of several thousand birds from Geelong-Port Arlington Rd. We’d actually reco’ed the birds prior to the race, so we twitched them from the car as we drove past at 70km an hour.

After finding the Banded Stilt I headed to Thirteenth Beach near Barwon Heads to search for a Sanderling that had been hanging around the beach with Red-necked Stint for the last week or so. I accessed the beach via a small path just before you reach the inter-section of Thirteenth Beach Rd and Blackrock Rd (just prior to the large wind turbine). It actually took me sometime to see the bird, walking up and down the beach several times. Sanderling are distinctive (as opposed to Little Stint ;), identified by their relative large size (when compared to Red-neck Stint) and white (in non-breeding plumage) head. Despite being cold, wet and windy there were quite a few people on the beach.

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13th Beach near Barwon Heads – a range of nice waders were seen here included Sanderling, Hooded and Double-banded Plover and Red-necked Stint

Most of the people on the beach were walking dogs, but there was also “land windsurfers” – a sport which is similar to windsurfing but performed on the beach using boards with wheels and a mast and sail. Not the sort of thing you want to see on a beach when you want to see waders. Some of the other birds about were Australasian Gannet, Great Cormorant, large numbers of Double-banded Plover (some in full breeding plumage), plenty of Red-capped Plover, 3 Hooded Plover, good numbers of Red-necked Stint, the odd Pacific Gull and Crested Tern, and in the sand dunes area Singing Honeyeater, Superb Fairy-wren, Striated Fieldwren and White-fronted Chat. Way out at sea there were large numbers of Fluttering Shearwater, and the odd Shy and White-browed Albatross.

[sanderling.jpg]
Sanderling

Thirteenth Beach or more particularly the nearby Black Rocks is historically quite a famous birding spot. It was once a sewage outlet and as a result large number sea birds would gather around outlet (doing what seabird do). The most famous visitors to the outlet were Southern Giant-Petrel and Northern Giant-Petrel, at a ratio of about ten to one. Prior to the pelagic boat trips organised of Port Fairy and Portland, the Black Rocks WAS the place in Australia to see these two large pelagic species. Sanderling has also been recorded here a few times previously, and aside from the people, it is a perfect beach for them, being protected from the wind by high sand dunes, and the beach also has offshore reefs.

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Bush in the Victorian central highlands – burnt out during the recent fires.

Central Highlands (Buxton, Alexandra and Lake Mountain)
After birding around the Bellarine Peninsular I headed inland to the central highlands staying in a house at Buxton near Alexandra. I was there mainly to go to the snow with my son and friends, but also to do some birding in the open woodland ridges. Birds were in good numbers and I managed to see several Spotted Quail-thrush in an area I’d seen them a few years earlier.

The main impression I got from the area was obviously the large areas of burnt forest and bush, and the complete destruction of townships such as Marysville. Most of the areas burnt by the recent fires were totally devastated. However despite this bush had a distinct beauty, with black burnt trees, marked by the green of the tree ferns and new sprouts in the gums. It had a silent beauty.
[Forest.JPG]
On the way back to Melbourne I stopped in at Badger Weir, walking up the wonderful walking track to the weir. Part of Yarra Ranges National Park, it is 10 km south east of Healesville on Don Road. A delightful walk through tall wet eucalypt forests (and close to Melbourne), there were Superb Lyrebird calling either of the track and Eastern Yellow Robin entertained through their usual curiosity. At night this area is a great place for nocturnal birds and mammal, including Sooty Owl (a bird I’ve yet to see in 2009, so I’ll be back) and Powerful Owl. Not coincidently the larger gliders such as Yellow Bellied Glider and Greater Glider are also common. Also of interest at the weir there are half a dozen very old and very impressive giant Californian Redwood. Really nice.

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The track up to Badger Weir

Into Box Ironbark Country: Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park
From Friday July 10 to Sunday July 12 I spent three days at the Chiltern – Mt Pilot National Park area, with trips on the way back to the Warby Ranges (known locally as the Warbies), Bailieston (Rushworth State Park), and then to Mount Ida Lookout (the far west side of Heathcote-Graytown National Park). During the trip I saw 6 new species for the year; however I dipped on one, Regent Honeyeater, which may in the end may be a year’s dip. It seems unlikely that the Box-Ironbark forests of northern Victoria will not flower this year, so the likelihood of seeing Regent Honeyeater also seems unlikely. Hopefully I’m wrong.

[Ground+Fern.JPG]
Green Rock Fern (Arthropodium strictum)

The park consists predominantly of open eucalyptus forest of Red Stringybark, Blakeley’s Red Gum, Grey Box and Mugga Ironbark. The whole area was green, with some really good rain in the area recently. There was flowing small bushy grevillea and the ground was covered with Green Rock Ferns.

My main aim for heading up to Chiltern was to see the park specialist species particularly Regent Honeyeater, endangered in Victoria but a regular winter and spring visitor to the area. So when I arrived early Friday afternoon I headed straight for some sites in the northern section of the park that I had regularly seen Regents. Disappointingly as soon as I arrived I knew things weren’t good, with the forest a virtual standstill. Aside from the odd Yellow-tufted Honeyeater there was very little birdlife. I quickly checked a few other sites, and nothing. The reason it was quiet was the general lack of flowering gum. Indeed it looked as though it was unlikely to flower at all this year. So the chances of seeing Regent Honeyeater this year seem slim – which would mean that I’m potentially one species down this year. Oh well. Fortunately there was a number of other target species, several which are hard work.

[Flowering+Grevillia.JPG]
 Cat’s Claw Grevillea (Grevillea alpina)

It was getting late, so the next species I targeted was nocturnal – Barking Owl. Fortunately I’d a good site for this near the Mount Pilot Range, so after dinner I spent a couple of hours spotlighting, eventually finding a single bird next to some roadside bush overlooking a valley.

The next day I targeted some resident bush birds. The first was Painted Button-quail. I’d seen this at a number of sites at Chiltern, but by far the best was an area of bush between the White Box Walking Track and Ballarat Rd / Cyanide Rd. After walking around for what seemed like hours, and coming across a number of areas with resent platelets, I flush a single Button-Quail. Out of interest this was at least the sixth time I’d targeted this species this year (at other sites in Victoria), dipping every other time – so I was extremely glad to get it under my belt.

Painted Button-Quail along the White Box Walking Track.

I’d normally seen Turquoise Parrot in this area also but they weren’t about. So I concentrated in an area of bush between the Honeyeater Dam and Lancaster Gap Rd / All Nations Rd. Eventually two birds flew past, making their characteristic Neophema call. This was the only time I saw Turquoise Parrot for the entire trip – in the past I’ve seen them with some regularity. Also seen in this section was White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike.

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 Lake Anderson in Chiltern. In 2009 it was almost dry.
In the trees around edge of the lake you can see
Blue-faced Honeyeater and Little Friarbird

Blue-faced Honeyeater was common near the almost dry Lake Anderson in central Chiltern. The lake is also a good place to see Little Friarbird, a year tick.

Although it was extremely quiet throughout the box-ironbark forests I did come across a few hot spots. These are areas where you get a range of species, normally small to mid-sized passerines’, which form communal flocks. One such area was on along Cyanide Road just north of the entrance to the entrance to the White Box Walk.

The road passes closely to a creek line and here I saw a nice collection of flocking species including seeing Golden Whistler, Red-capped Robin, Yellow Robin and Restless Flycatcher in one tree. According to my records also seen at this site were Black-chinned, Fuscous and Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Yellow Thornbill, Weebill, Little Raven, and Brown Treecreeper.

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White Box (Eucalyptus albens), Mugga Ironbark (Eucalyptus sideroxylon) and Austral Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea australis)

Warby Ranges National Park and Thoona
The Warby Ranges were quiet. A quick stop at Pine Gully Picnic Area, an area of granitic hills characterised by a mosaic of open forests and woodlands of Blakely’s Red Gum, Red Stringybark, Box species, Austral Grass-tree and the hardy Spurwinged Wattle, produced a nice mixed flock of Eastern Yellow Robin, Varied Sittella, Little Thornbill, White-throated and Brown Treecreeper but little else. This contrasted with my last stop here, albeit in spring where I recorded Western Gerygone (which I haven’t seen so far this year), Turquoise Parrot, Painted Honeyeater (seen in Mugga Ironbark at “The Camp” camping ground, and another bird I haven’t seen in 2009), and Speckled Warbler. Of interest Eurasian Tree Sparrow were common in downtown Wangaratta.

[Warbies.JPG]
Warby Ranges, Pine Gully Picnic Area –
a good site for woodland birds such as
Turquoise Parrot, Speckled Warbler and Western Gerygone.

One of the most significant aspects of my trip to north-central Victoria has been the lack of flowing trees. There were literally no flowering gums anywhere in any of the national parks visited or anywhere in between.

I did however find one town which had significant flowering trees, including on eucalypts that was flowering more than any other tree I think I’ve seen! This was in Thoona, a small town just west of the Warby Ranges (known locally as the “Warbies”). Here there was several flowering Grey Box as well as a few profusely flowering Spotted Gum. In Victoria the Spotted Gum is a street tree. It naturally occurs on the east-coast of Australia down to the Mimosa Rocks National Park near Bega.

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Hard to see, mainly because it’s night time! My Barking Owl site near Mt Pilot Range.

In the trees at Thoona there were large numbers of Little Lorikeet, as well as White-plumed Honeyeater and Noisy Minor. (I’ve since noticed that there is a Thoona Bushland Reserve on the Thoona Devenish Road which may be worth checking out.) Interestingly perhaps not coincidently Spotted Gum is also flowering profusely on the south east coast of NSW at the moment (around Mimosa Rock NP), with unprecedented numbers of Swift Parrot.

Heathcote-Graytown National Park and Rushworth State Park
Again another quick stop at Rushworth State Forest, entering near Bailieston, looking for some sign of flowering box-ironbark. Unfortunately nothing, with the only species present being Noisy Friarbird and Yellow-tufted Honeyeater and very little else. Like everywhere else there was very few Pardalote, with the solitary call of a Spotted Pardalote.

I headed down to Bailieston crossing the Kirwin Bridge (via the Kirwin Bridge-Longwood Rd and then Bailieston Road East ), a very impressive single lane bridge with several pull points along the bridge – the wetland area on the west side were really interesting, a perfect place to see crake and rails.

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The stunning Kirwin Bridge.

Following up on a tip from a mate on a site for Chestnut-rumped Hylacola (Heathwren) I headed to Mount Ida Lookout, in the western part of Heathcote-Graytown National Park. Proclaimed a national park with the passing of the Box-Ironbark Bill in 2002, the park is located just east of Heathcote. The area I was heading, Mount Ida, accessed via the Northern Hwy approximately 8 kilometres north of Heathcote. Turn in Mount Ida Road and head up to the lookout. I instantly recognised the habitat as being perfect for Hylacola, being a mixture of a healthy understory, mainly Daisy Bush, and trees such as Red Ironbark, Grey Box and Yellow Box. I found Chestnut-rumped Hylacola at several spots along the lookout road about half way up to the lookout. From the lookout, despite the rain I was able to see Victoria’s remaining Box-Ironbark forests disappear into the hazy horizon in all directions.

[Mount+Ida.JPG]
Entrance to Mt Ida Lookout.

Chestnut-rumped Hylacola is such a shy species. From my experience it is much shier and more timorous than the Shy Heathwren and really the two Heathwrens should switch their common names. (I also think the Shy Heathwren has a far more prominent chestnut-rump.)

In some ways the Chestnut-rumped Heathwren is one of Victoria’s hardest to see species. For instance, one thing I haven’t written much about in this account of the VicTwitch is the number of times I’ve dipped on seeing species. With regards to the Chestnut-rumped Heathwren I’ve actually looked for them on at least 6 previous occasions including Croajingolong, southern Bendigo (3 times), the Grampians near Mount Zero, Black Ranges (west side of the Grampians), Anglesea, and Chiltern. (I did have a back-up site at Jilpanger.)

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The road up to Mt Ida – a good site for Chestnut-rumped Heathwren. It was very wet, so my main aim was not to get bogged – again!

Chestnut-rumped Heathwren was my 320th species of bird in Victoria in 2009; only 15 species to go! That being said my rate of progress has dropped significantly, with only a dozen new species seen in the last month. By going to Chiltern and the box-ironbark areas of Victoria I had used up my last remaining significant birding area in which I was likely to see a “bunch” of new species. From now on I would be chasing single and isolated species. If you remember I was planning to head to Portland (instead of heading to Chiltern), and aside from onshore pelagic birds I was going to follow up on a few leads on Victorian Karak (Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo). This however would have to wait until another time.

26 July, a quiet weekend at home, and a walk at Yarra Bend. Some nice birds though, with Darter, a very vocal Golden Whistler, Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike, and Little, Musk, Scaly-breasted and Rainbow Lorikeet all seen near the Fairfield Boathouse. I also had Kookaburras calling as part of the dawn chorus, heard from back yard (for the first time).

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A common scene in the central highland around the Victorian central highlands: closed due to widespread fire damage.

Early August and Far SW Victoria
It was the start of August and a great time to do some onshore seabirding*, so of course I headed down to the wonderful Portland and Cape Nelson. I personally reckon that this is one of the best birding areas in Australia – what could be better! I was also targeting Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo – so I’d planned a side trip to Rennick State Forest on the Victorian / South Australian border.

Black-browed Albatross, Cape Nelson

Logan’s Beach
On the way down to Portland I stopped at Logan’s Beach in Warrnambool, hoping to catch up with whales, and yes, there they were, 2 Southern Right Whales, a mother and calf only about 30 metres off the beach, literally just behind the surf break! A wonderful sight, and what an excellent way to start to the weekend. (Incidentally this was my 29th Victorian mammal species for the year.)

Southern Right Whale, Logan’s Beach near Warrnambool

Princess Highway

Half way between Port Fairy and Portland along the Princess Hwy I got my first 2009 Victorian bird tick for the weekend. In a paddock on the north side there was a flock of 20 Kelp Gulp. These were at least 5 km inland, and they were associating with Little Raven and Australian Magpie – not the sort of behaviour I’d normally associate with Kelp Gull. Most records of this relatively recent arrival to Victoria are from shore lines or out at sea. Indeed the very first record of Kelp Gull in western Victoria was as recent as 1987, and the first breeding record in Victoria was in Jan 2000. My feeling is that these birds were collecting together as part of a courtship display, paring off, and deciding who are the dominant birds. I’d recently seen the same thing with a flock of Crested Pigeon in my local park. Spring is here!

In the last few weeks south-western Victoria has had some rain! Lots of rain! In fact the whole district was completely sodden, with large areas of ephemeral wetland and wet pastures. These were populated by large numbers of ducks; Grey and Chestnut Teal, Black Duck, Black Swan, many many pairs of Mountain Duck, and other wetland birds such as Great Egret, White-faced Heron and Royal and Yellow-billed Spoonbill, and a quick stop at Deen Maar (an Indigenous Protected Area and wonderful wetland, viewed from just after Yambuk) there was Magpie Geese. There were quite a few raptors about including Wedge-tailed Eagle, Collared Sparrowhawk, Black-Shouldered Kite, Nankeen Kestrel, Brown Falcon, Marsh Harrier and one Peregrine.

Paddock full of Kelp Gull, between Port Fairy and Portland. Not quite what I expected to see.

Rennick State Forest
The first bird that I was particularly chasing was Karak, race graptogyne of the endangered Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, an isolated population limited to far south-west Victoria and far south-east SA. I’d been given some goss on a couple of recent sites north-west of Portland: the first was on the northern edge of Glenelg National Park along Croziers Track; the second at Rennick State Forest. It was raining hard and I liked my chances better at Rennick, so I headed to the furthest site.

Rennick State Forest, a good place to look for Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo in Victoria.

An intriguing state forest, Rennick is dominated by two species of eucalypt, Brown Stringybark (Eucalyptus baxteri) and Manna Gum (E. viminalis) and is bordered by agricultural land and Pinus radiata plantations. Travelling along the Princess Hwy it’s only a few km in from the South Australian border. Aside from Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Rennicks is perhaps best known for being the extreme western end of Yellow-bellied Glider distribution.

Rennick State Forest: again, one of the best places in Victoria to see Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo

Turning south along the western boundary of Rennicks I travelled down the Old Caves Road (really just a track) stopping at a number of places along the way. At each stop I just waited for something to happen – how else do you find Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo? Although there was good bird activity including things such as the odd Emu, Golden Whistler, Buff-rumped Thornbill, Eastern Yellow Robin, Brush Bronzewing, Australasian Pipit and Grey Shrike-thrush, there was no sign of any Cockatoos.

The situation was awkward; as mentioned there’d been a lot of rain and the further I travelled down Old Cave Road (track) the greater the likelihood that I would get bogged, something that seemed to happen to me with regularity! Then I heard the calls. A mixture of calls; Australian Magpie, Australian Raven, Pied Currawong and Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo! A pair of Wedge-tailed Eagle flew over the pine plantation that bordered Rennick and a flock of Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo (along with Ravens and Currawong), took flight and drove away the Wedgies. This was only 500 metres away from the spot that I’d been parked for nearly an hour. Thanks for that. This was an area that bordered natural forest, pine plantation and cleared forestry land approximately 1km inside the South Australian border. Coincidentally this was almost the exact situation that I saw Glossy Black-Cockatoo back in January 2009. In January I saw the Glossies just inside Victoria about 1 km from NSW border. Also seen at Rennicks were Red-necked and Black Wallaby and Koala – and at one point a Koala climbed up a tree just a few metres away from where I was sitting.

A Brown Skua on the Lee Breakwater, with a Black-browed Albatross in the background.

Portland Harbour & the Lee Breakwater
One of the highlights of the weekend (and for the year) was seeing 3 very forthcoming Brown Skua on the Lee Breakwater in Portland Harbour. When I first arrived at the breakwater they were in the water about 50 metres from the very end of the breakwater. For some reason it seemed like a good idea to wave my arms about and say over hear (not your standard birding technique!) – I imagined that on those sub-Antarctic islands they’d be attracted to commotion. Hey presto, they all flew in perhaps expecting to be feed. The only thing I had with me was Apricot Muesli Bars. They seemed to like it – they are after all opportunistic feeders! Also flying around the breakwater was a couple of Black-browed Albatross, and I was able to photograph a Skua and Albatross in the same photograph. In the harbour there were also plenty of Black-faced and Little Pied Cormorant, Pacific Gull, and a couple of Pied Oystercatchers.

Brown Skua on the Lee Breakwater Portland;  the picture says it all.

Cape Nelson and Cape Nelson Lighthouse
Next stop was Cape Nelson State Park, with spectacular coastal cliff, heathland and the unusual Soap Mallee (Eucalyptus diversifolia), a species restricted to Cape Nelson. Much of the heath was in flower, including Coast Beard Heath (Leucopogon parviflorus), Common Correa (Correa reflexa) and Coast Wattle (Acacia longifolia var sophorae). The whole place looked stunning.

It’s about 10km from Portland and when driving in along the Scenic Rd Brush Bronzewing were reasonably common and there were several small parties of Beautiful Firetail – always a nice bird to see, the last time being January 09 near Mallacoota.

At the Cape Nelson Lighthouse car park bush birds were in fine song: an early arriving Shinning Bronzewing-Cuckoo was calling, as were Rufous Bristlebird, New Holland and Singing Honeyeater, Brown Thornbill (the local Portland birds have a wonderful water-dripping call), Spotted Pardalote, White-browed Scrubwren and Superb Fairy-wren.

Beautiful Firetail along the Scenic Drive, Cape Nelson.

One of the main aims of the whole trip was to go sea-birding at the Cape Nelson Lighthouse. With spectacular views of the surrounding coast it is almost certainly one the best seabird watching site in Victoria, if not Australia. I found that the best viewing area was immediately in front of the lighthouse (not at the viewing platform); it’s slightly sheltered from the wind, which believe me makes a big difference, and has excellent panoramic views.

This time of year (early August) is a good time to be searching for seabirds – there’d been strong onshore winds and rough weather for the last few weeks. Autumn and earlier spring is also one of the best times for seabirds in Victoria waters as there is a bit of a winter summer species overlap.

With a coffee (large) in hand I sat down and looked out to sea for about 6 hours. What could be better! 🙂 The most common species were Australasian Gannet and there literally hundreds of them flying back and forth from Point Danger and Lawrence Rocks State Fauna Reserve.

And Albatross. Lots of Albatross! Mollymawks. At one point I had about 20 sitting of the water in front of me. The most common was Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche carteri), a small albatross, about the same size as Australasian Gannet – it is distinctive in terms of the dark line around the under wing, grayish almost brown upperwings, and its hunched-back-way of flying. There were good numbers Black-browed Albatross, slaty black upperwings and a larger-darker areas on the under wings, and Shy Albatross (T. Cauta) with their dark armpits. There were good numbers of Crested Tern and White-fronted Tern, which was particularly common, distinguished by its dark bill, delicate ‘comic tern’ shape, light appearance and method of flying – swallow like, sometimes skimming the water. White-fronted Tern breed in sunny New Zealand, arriving on Australia’s south coast in autumn and leave by late spring.

There were also plenty of Fluttering Shearwater, which started appearing in mid-morning, would then disappear, and then reappear as if out of no-where; and Fairy Prion, small, often touching the water, also started appearing on the scene mid-morning. Anytime I looked there were seabirds over the water!

Soup Mallee in Victoria is restricted to Cape Nelson.

What’s that? Did those small dark and light petrels dive into that wave? I reckon they were Common Diving-Petrel! What else could they be – I’m very close to ticking them for the VicTwitch. Mmmm… They do, after all, breed nearby on Lady Julia Percy Island.

Rough seas, Cape Nelson

There were also Common Dolphin. A pod of over a hundred continually swam immediately in front of where I was sitting. (This was also my 30th Victorian mammal species for the year!) They’re a relatively small dolphin when compared to Bottlenose Dolphin, with their distinctive large yellow strip. They were regular participants in ‘feeding frenzies’ (for want of a better phrase) – with Common Dolphin, Australasian Gannet, Crested and White-fronted Tern all feeding on schools of fish. The Gannet and Crested Tern in particularly dived in and around the dolphin as they swam.

Common Dolphin, approx 100, Cape Nelson.

There were also other birds, several toned, and some with Pterodroma shaping, however they were way out to sea and I couldn’t get onto to them; and also a large albatross, possibly a Wanderer? It would have been good to have an extra pair of eyes or two. Several Kelp Gull flew by, with their distinctive white tail, and a single Brown Skua, with its rich chocolate brown and white wing patches.

In terms of passerines, while sitting at Cape Nelson Lighthouse Rufous Bristlebird entertained me with their wonderful far-reaching call (one of my personal favourites), as did Singing Honeyeater, Welcome Swallow and Starling. At one point a large flock of Galah flew overhead and then flew out to sea! Where were they going! Perhaps to Lady Julia Percy?

Killarney Beach
Finally a quick stop-over at Killarney Beach on the way back to Melbourne produced nothing new for the year, but what a great spot. Entering through the re-vegetation area I there were 10 Hooded Plover in two groups of 5 (both groups being 2 adults and 3 juveniles), 3 Sanderling, lots of Crested Tern and Silver Gull and my only Crested Pigeon (5) for the entire trip! The site is favoured by Sanderling due to the protection of Killarney Reef.

Killarney Beach, good for Sanderling and Hooded Plover.

Summing up the Far South West
So, visiting far south west Victoria has certainly been a worthwhile trip. There were four new bird species for my VicTwitch 2009 list, Kelp Gull, Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Brown Skua, and White-fronted Tern (and maybe a couple of missed opportunities) – and also some Southern Right Whale and Common Dolphin. I reckon this area one of the best places to go birding in Victoria; I’m already thinking about my next trip down there.

Dipping around Melbourne and Healesville, but some nice mammals
After a successful Portland trip things have been pretty quiet – with a few big dips. I missed out on the Bush Stone-Curlew at Braeside – with a single bird had been seen at the Southern Golf Course next door to Braeside Park. The consolation was an Echidna.

[Ring-tailed+Possum.JPG] Then there was a bird survey for the Friends of Merri Creek in the area around CERES – between Moreland Rd and Albert St, Brunswick. Again bird wise there was not much to be seen. There was a nice female Ring-tailed Possum with a baby, seen in a Black Wattle.

Then there was a trip to an area of tall wet forest near Healesville, targeting Sooty Owl. This was a site I’d seen them previously, and I was fairly confident that we’d get onto them. The main problem was the wind, which meant we were unlikely to hear anything. In fact, under the circumstances the chance of hearing or seeing Sooty Owl was minimal – and it was another failed birding trip for the year. That being said it was quite fun to be spotlighting amongst tall Mountain Ash, and the consolation was again some nice mammals, including a few unidentified micro bat species, as well as Yellow-bellied Glider and Greater Glider, a new mammal for my Victorian year list (Mammal No 31).

Greater Glider, Badgers Weir.
Tim Dolby spotlighting Badgers Weir.

The VicTwitch Record is Broken

As part of a fund raising event to raise money for Australian Wildlife Health Centre at Healesville Sanctuary this year I’ve attempted to break the VicTwitch record. So here’s a rundown on where the VicTwitch09 currently stands. The good news is that the VicTwitch record is broken! My current standing is 340, 5 more than the previous record.
Crimson Chat seen at both Goschen FFR and the Murray Sunset

Special thanks Jonathon Thornton for the use of some of his excellent photographs (they’re the good ones), all taken at the wonderful Goschen Flora and Fauna Reserve.

This report deals with the period from late September to November. It’s rather long, it is spring after all! It begins with brief reports on Anakie Gorge, Royal Park and the You Yangs. Then covers the reconnaissance of northern Victoria for the Twitchathon, and then THE big race itself! Finally I discuss the book launch of Where to See Birds in Victoria and a trip to the Australian Birdfair in Leeton. On the way up and back from Leeton I stopped to bird near Barmah and Rutherglen. In the process I’ve beaten the VicTwitch record!

As mentioned my current standing is 340, which is 5 more than the previous record. To cap it all off my team won the 2009 Victorian Twitchathon. Aside from the birding being great fun, I’m seriously starting to question my sanity!

Victoria 2009 – the route so far!

Royal Park Comes Alive in Spring 2009
Believed it or not, on my ride to work I saw 2 new species for the VicTwitch!

Open woodland habitat in Royal Park

The first was Rufous Songlark and the second White-winged Triller. There’s a wonderful little wetland at Royal Park called Trin Warren Tam-boore (Bellbird waterhole). Previously five hectares of little-used land in the north-western area of Royal Park, it was opened officially in 2006 as part of the Commonwealth Games Village.

The transition of the area has been remarkable, from wasteland to seriously good bird habitat. Next to the wetland is an area of scrubby open woodland (a site maintained as protected habitat for White’s Skink) that attracts good numbers of birds. This is where the Rufous Songlark and White-winged Triller were seen. Spring 2009 is proving to be very good year for Victorian summer migrants, with large influxes of Rufous Songlark, White-winged Triller, Black-tailed Native-hen, rare migratory honeyeaters (mentioned below) and woodswallows.

Black-eared Cuckoo, they were surprisingly common at Anakie Gorge.

A day trip to Anakie Gorge, part of Brisbane Ranges NP, and the bird life was very active. Spring was well and truly here. Of note were large numbers cuckoo, including no less than 4 Black-eared Cuckoo. This was a new bird for my Victorian year list, and a bird that can be devilishly tricky to track down particularly when you’re specifically looking for it. Other cuckoos included Pallid Cuckoo (1), Fan-tailed Cuckoo (1), Shining Bronze-Cuckoo (numerous) and Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo (numerous). They were feeding on large hairy caterpillars that seemed to be plague proportions. The caterpillars in turn were feeding on Silver Wattle which, due to recent rains in the area, was covered in new shoot growth. Honeyeater were also numerous at Anakie (perfect hosts for young cuckoos) with large numbers of White-naped, Yellow-faced, Yellow-tufted, Brown-headed Honeyeater and White-eared Honeyeater. The best spot for cuckoo was about 3/4 of the way up the 3 km walk, towards the Stony Creek Picnic Area end of the walk. Also seen flying over the gorge was a single Blue-winged Parrot.

You Yangs
A day trip to the You Yangs showing around the CEOs of Birdlife International organisations was rewarding. I finally caught up with Masked Woodswallow, an inland species that had eluded me up until now. There were also White-winged Triller, Rufous Songlark, Diamond Firetail, Restless Flycatcher, Brown Treecreeper, Rainbow Bee-eater, Little Eagle and Purple-crowned Lorikeet.

Black-eared Cuckoo food!

After the You Yangs I took the group to The Spit Nature Conservation Reserve (part of the Western Treatment Plant complex). Good numbers of waders were seen, the most interesting was Pectoral Sandpiper, another new species for the year.

Northern Victoria and Twitchathon Reconnaissance
As part of the reconnaissance for the 2009 Victorian Twitchathon (with Greg Oakley and Fiona Parkin) I headed up to northern Victoria. On this trip I thought that I might get close to the VicTwitch record but didn’t think I would break it. I was sitting on 329, still needing another 7 new species. To my surprise I broke it on the first day! After camping over night at Lake Boga, the first stop was at Goschen Fauna & Flora Reserve. It’s located about 15 km west of Lake Boga, at the intersection of the Ultima-Lake Boga Rd and the Donald Swan Hill Rd. The place was running hot! Really HOT.

I saw my first Black Honeyeater for 2009 near the communication tower in the north east section of Goschen. At the time I had a feeling of great delight, and I wasn’t sure if I’d see Black Honeyeater again. Moving further through the reserve it turned out that they were the common honeyeater!

Showing a gaggle of Birdlife International VIPs around Hovell Creek in the You Yangs

The second new bird at Goschen was Pied Honeyeater, a flock of 15 birds seen in the area between the old club house and the communication tower! This was a great bird and a real bonus for the VicTwitch! To give you an example of its rarity I’d never seen them in Victoria before. The last 2 times I’d seen them was in the Simpson Desert in South Australia (2008) and Erldunda in the Northern Territory (2007), but both were nearly 2 thousand km away. It seemed that in terms of honeyeaters in Victoria there was a reversal of status – common honeyeaters were scarce and rare honeyeaters common. In the same area as the Pied Honeyeater, were several scattered flocks of Crimson Chat, another tricky bird to find, looking brilliant in the bright morning sun!

Black Honeyeater seen Goschen FFR near Swan Hill

I also added two more birds to the VicTwitch list at Goschen, Budgerigar and Cockatiel. Despite both species being icons of Australia, they’re quite uncommon in Victoria. They only seem to turn up (in any number) during “good years”, when there’s been just the right amount of rain. I ended up seeing Budgerigar and Cockatiel with some regularity during this trip north, most flying in small flocks along roadsides. Also seen at Goschen were hundreds of woodswallows, mostly White-browed and Masked Woodswallow, but also the odd Black-faced Woodswallow. A Peregrine feasted on the woodswallows, attacking them from a vantage point on the communication tower.

[Note: there was also large numbers of woodswallows drinking on an irrigation channel just west of Round Lake on Long Lake Road. Black Honeyeater was also seen here.]

Put simply Goschen was amazing! Considering the heat, during the day the temperature was 38 degrees, the activity of birds was really high. By contrast when we visited other sites in the area, such as Tresco West Reserve, they were very quiet. At Goschen I had added five new species to my 2009 Victorian list (Black and Pied HE, Crimson Chat, Budgerigar, Cockatiel) and it only took 15 minutes! This was about the same as the number of new bird species I had added in the last 3 months! At Goschen I’d hope to get at least one new tick, maybe a Black Honeyeater, but to get five was outstanding. I was also within touching distance of breaking the record (335). I was suddenly and unexpectedly sitting on 334 species and I knew exactly where I could find at least 2 and maybe 3 new species – and I would see them today! It was turning into Super VicTwitch Friday!

Goschen Flora and Fauna Reserve near Swan Hill. Pied and Black Honeyeater, Crimson Chat, Cockatiel and Budgerigar were all seen in a 15 minutes!

Lake Tyrrell
The next new species for the day was Orange Chat, a small flock of 6 at Lake Tyrrell (a large salt lake south of Ouyen). Entering via Bailey’s Rd, and then birding along Lake Tyrrell Road, I also saw Rufous Fieldwren, Banded Lapwing, White-winged Fairy-wren (all previously seen at Lake Tyrrell when I’d birded there earlier in the year), and good numbers of Blue Bonnet. The Orange Chat was my 335 Victorian bird species, equaling the previous acclaimed record. Just one more species to beat the record!

 

Female Pied Honeyeater, Goschen.

Murray Sunset National Park
A quick drop in to the Honeymoon Hut Track in the Murray Sunset to try once again for Red-lored Whistler. It was disappointing mainly because when we were there it was the middle of the day and extremely hot. It was therefore a bit of a waste of time searching for this rare and cryptic whistler, it would have been much better to be there early in the morning. Red-lored Whistler was going to be a dip for 2009, a real pity because I’ve usually seen (or heard) them with relative ease at this site previously.

Lake Tyrrell near Sea Lake. A good site for Orange Chat, Blue Bonnet, White-winged Fairy-wren, Rufous Fieldwren and Banded Lapwing (there are 3 in this image).

While in the Murray Sunset I also stopped at Wymlet Tank, quiet during the midday heat, as well as a small water bore on the Trinita Rd (really just a track). This site was buzzing, being one of the most active birding spots in the Mallee. The list of birds seen here reads like a rare bird list for northern Victoria – Black Honeyeater, Crimson Chat, White-backed Swallow, Chestnut Quail-thrush, White-browed and Masked Woodswallow, most of the inland Victoria parrots including Budgies and Cockatiel. I would really like to have spent more time along Trinita Rd. I reckon this is one of the best open woodlands in northern Victoria, particularly the open grassy woodland areas.

The Honeymoon Hut Track, Murray Sunset. A good spot to look for Red-lored Whistler.

Mildura and a NEW VicTwitch Record!
After leaving the Murray Sunset I headed to Mildura. There were two good reasons to go to Mildura. One was to pick up the 3rd member of our Twitchathon team Fiona Parkin, who was flying into Mildura from Adelaide. The other was to track down a Little Crow .

Mildura Tip. An unlikely site for breaking the VicTwitch. Perhaps not.

Mildura is considered the best site in Victoria to see Little Crow, or more particularly the Mildura Tip is the best is Victoria. A quick stop at the tip and within seconds I heard and then saw Little Crow . THE VICTWITCH record was mine!!! 336 species of birds in Victoria in one year! Hurray. Sparklers lit. Streamers flew!! French champagne popped. Well actually none of that happened. I simply gave five to Greg and then suggested we leave as it was kind of smelly. It seems a great irony that instead of breaking the record with a bird such as Pied Honeyeater or Crimson Chat (i.e. something interesting or colourful) I broke it with a crow at a rubbish tip! It’s probably good thing too. It is reflective of birding in general. For example how often do you see new species of birds in places such as a treatment plant or dusty dry paddocks in the middle of nowhere? Birding as a past time is fantastic; almost by definition it takes you to great environments, great habitats and great places. It also takes you to some fairly crummy ones also. So breaking the Victorian record at an unattractive, highly worked over rubbish tip was poetic justice. An ironic outcome in a moment of triumph, fantastic!

Victorian Twitchathon
Not discussed here, for a full report on the 2009 Victorian Twitchathon follow this link: https://timothydolby.com/2016/05/11/2009-victorian-twitchathon/. For the record my team, the 7 Year Twitchers, won the Twitchathon with a score of 215 bird species in 24 hrs. If I had maintain the standard set on the Twitchathon for the VicTwitch i.e. 215 bird species a day, over 365 days I would have totaled 78,475 bird species in a calendar year!

Wymlet Tank in the Murray Sunset, a good site for inland parrots.

Book Launch
Thursday 12 November and the launch Where to See Birds in Victoria . The launch was a great success, attended by nearly 200 people. Graeme Hamilton, CEO of Birds Australia, officially launched the book. I was particularly taken with the chant “We are birdwatchers and we vote! Louder!! WE ARE BIRDWATCHERS AND WE VOTE!!!” This is the first time I’ve witnessed 200 shouting (and now politically active) birdwatchers! Not bad.

Where to See Birds in Victoria, launched at Birds Australia National Office. Attended by approx 200 people. Not bad! The quote of the night by Graeme Hamilton (CEO Birdlife Australia) “We are birdwatchers and we vote!”

The Australian Bird Fair and North Central Victoria
As part of the promotion of the new bird book, I drove up to the Australian Birdfair in Leeton NSW. On the way up I stopped off at Yielima just north of Nathalia (near the intersection of Picola North Rd and Murray Valley Hwy) hoping to see Superb Parrot in Victoria. Disappointingly there were no Superbs – I was kicking them out of the way just across the border in NSW. Near Leeton I saw a flock of 15, and totaling 30 in the great area (3.7 km east of Yanco on the Irrigation Way). At Yielima I did see Western Gerygone, another new bird for the year, and on a small wetland between Yielima and Nathalia (east side of Murray Valley Hwy) there were large numbers of waterbirds including my first Intermediate Egret for the year, another VicTwitch tick. My 2009 VicTwitch total was now 338. The area around Nathalia and the Barmah State Forest was looking golden – it was obviously a bumper year for the wheat farmers.

Wheat farmers in northern Victoria and NSW were having a good year in 2009.

The Australian Birdfair was fun; catching up with a few people. A couple of dramas on the trip (of course) – I was locked into the grounds of the Yanco Agricultural Secondary College for several hours (when I first arrived in Leeton) after mistakenly thinking it was the Yanco Agricultural Institute . As I drove in someone else drove out, and they locked the gate behind them! I was eventually bailed out by a woman in a bikini! It’s a long story! The school was actually a good birding spot, for example Superb Parrot was a school ground bird, and Yellow Rosella, Wood Duck, Blue-faced Honeyeater and Little Friarbird feed together on the school lawn. I also locked myself out of my room and fortunately Vic Hurley came to the rescue with a few cold beers. And then I lost my wallet… but that’s another story.

Birds in the area included Pectoral and Wood Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwits, Freckled Duck, Brown Quail and Glossy Ibis at Fivebough Wetlands in Leeton . There was good numbers of Black Honeyeater and Painted Honeyeater in the Mia State Forest near Yanco, and a single Pied Honeyeater was seen. As mentioned Superb Parrot were common in the area, with birds regularly seen flying over the fair itself. A flock of 40 Superb Parrot was seen 3.7 km east of Yanco on the Irrigation Way.

Superb Parrot were common near Yanco and Leeton in NSW. Unfortunately, despite looking for them near Barmah State Forest, I dipped in Victoria.

Then back into Victoria via Howlong on the Murray River. I still hadn’t seen Dollarbird, so was hoping to track it along the Murray. This part of Victoria is a hot spot for them in summer. Dools suggested Lake Moodemere just west of Rutherglen, however just after crossing over the bridge and entering Victoria there was a Dollarbird flying down on Barnarwartha Rd, near Brown Plains .

Bush Stone-Curlew, a pair near Rutherglen.

The next stop was the DSI Research Station near Rutherglen for Bush Stone-curlew . Following up on a tip, I found a pair next the public car park. Bird number 340! Bush Stone-curlew is such an interesting species; due to foxes they’re under increasing threat, particularly in Australia’s southern states where foxes are common.

I visited a couple of other sites around Chiltern hoping for Painted Honeyeater. Bartley’s Block was quiet except for Turquoise Parrot, Western Gerygone, Rufous Whistler and Yellow-tufted Honeyeater. There were some nice birds at the Chiltern dams including Hardhead, Great and Intermediate Egret, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, White-winged Triller, Dollarbird, Masked and White-browed Woodswallow and Rainbow Bee-eater.

Birds Not Seen in Northern Victoria
To sum up, in the north I’d dipped on a number of key species I was seeking. These included Red-lored Whistler, Red-backed Kingfisher, Regent Honeyeater and Superb Parrot and Spotted Harrier . (There are a few others, but I may still catch up with them.) I’ve got sites for all of the above species, but I’m not sure I will be able to get back up north this year to pick them up. In terms of the Spotted Harrier I’ve seen this nearly every year with ease, but despite being in the appropriate places many times I dipped. In terms of the Superb Parrot, dipping around Yielima and Nathalia was disappointing because I was kicking them out of the way just across the border in NSW.

There is one still one month to go, so I have plenty of time to add more birds to the list. If anybody has any tips please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Western Gerygone calling in the tree immediately behind Bartley’s Block’s signage.

26 December 2009 to Boxing Day
Boxing Day, and there was a Whimbrel on the Barwon River mudflats. It was nice to catch up with this bird, a species that I’d almost forgotten about. I’d dipped on Whimbrel during the Twitchathon, so I assumed that it wouldn’t be around in 2009. There were a few other nice waders at Barwon Heads including Eastern Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, and Marsh Sandpiper.

Barbary Dove (Williamstown), recently added to official Australian bird list.

Perhaps surprisingly another bird I’d not seen in Victoria was Common Sandpiper – a bird that favours coastal rocky creeklines. Interestingly there are a few excellent sites for this species in Melbourne itself; the first is the rocky edges of the Yarra under Westgate Bridge (often seen by Andrew Hunard as he kayaks on the Yarra), the Eastern Treatment Plant (where Mike Carter gets onto them with some regularity during summer on the BA-Vic surveys), and the Kororoit Creek at the Altona Coastal Park. Steve Davidson said he’d recently seen a one near the Racecourse Rd bridge on the Kororoit Creek. After walking along the creekline, I got onto a single bird on rocks just south of the bridge. This area is a really nice area for birding, also seen here was Little Egret, Common Greenshank and a dozen Black-winged Stilt.

I was also impressed with a piece of sculpture at Altona Coastal Park; a combination of a horse and a bird that looks somewhat like a wader, possibly a Greenshank. The reason for the horse, the area used to be a race track (hence Racecourse Rd) and the bird, the area is now a wetland reserve.

Common Sandpiper, Altona Coastal Park. It is there – test your skills!

December 30 2009
Next stop an evening trip to Bunyip State Forest for a couple of night birds I still needed. Bunyip is a deceptive site, despite seeming close to Melbourne, I headed up after having dinner (Pizza) with family in Rathdowne Street in Carlton, I only just managed to get there before dusk, the best time to see (or rather hear) White-throated Nightjar. I parked near car the Hemlet Track Trail Bike Uploading Area (near the intersection with Black Snake Creek Rd) and within minutes just after dusk, several nightjars called in the distance. This was an almost identical situation to when Greg Oakley and I twitched White-throated Night during the 2006 VicTwitch. Bird number 343.

On the way back I tried for Sooty Owl in some of the larger Mountain Ash areas of Bunyip, somewhere along Link Rd. This was a bird that I’d dipped on several times already this year, such as at Badgers Weir near Healesville. Despite hearing a very brief distant calls that may (or may not) have been Sooty Owl, I was unable to satisfactory tick this species.

Dusk skies, Bunyip State Forest.

December 31 2009 New Year’s Eve
It was December 31 2009, NYE (my middle name), and I was left with just one more one day. How many species could add to my Victorian year list? I was targeting 4 new bird species on the last day. With Paul Dodd, Fiona Parkin and Jon Thornton along for the ride, the first bird we went for was the Long-toed Stint that had been seen recently at Werribee. The last report was the Conservation Ponds at 35E – 8. Long-toed Stint was really a bird that I should have targeted earlier – it was first seen in November! I’d assumed that I would simply I turn up, have a quick look, and see the bird. We did after all have Fiona’s new Leica scope. Not so, and it was the first dip for the day.

The next bird I was looking for was a pair of Spotted Harrier, a tip passed onto me by Stuart Dashper. He’d seen the birds behind Avalon Airport near the salt works on Dandos Rd. Again I should have chased this sighting much earlier (it was seen during the BOCA Bird Count on December 9!) and unfortunately I dipped. Some consolation was a couple of juvenile Black-winged Stilt looking very much like a Marsh Sandpipers.

The next target was a bird that some question should even be on the Victorian list, Barbary Dove. It is an interesting bird for a couple of reasons. The first is its taxonomy. Although normally assigned its own systematic name Streptopelia risoria, it is thought to be a domestic form of either Eurasian Collared Dove S. decaocto or more likely the African Collared Dove S. roseogrisea. The other is its status. Although it’s recently been added to the official Australian list via Christidis and Boles (2008), some suggest that it has not yet established itself in Victoria. For example did it meet the 10 year rule i.e. being a self-sustaining population for 10 years. Mike Carter for instance, to avoid any doubt, travelled to Adelaide to see Barbary Dove, despite having already seen it in Victoria. For the VicTwitch I’ve decided to include it on the Vic list, and ticked of pair of Barbary Dove at the end of Gray Reserve Road. This borders the Kororoit Creek in Williamstown North. Bird number 344!

No dumping offal! Dunach Nature Conservation Reserve, north of Clunes.

The final destination was Dunach Nature Conservation Reserve, a box-ironbark and stringybark woodland on the Clunes-Maryborough Road. One of the main attractions of Dunach is the amount of Mistletoe (Amyema miquelii) found on the parks eucalypts, providing a source of food and habitat for birds such as the threatened Painted Honeyeater. We arrived around 3:00pm and it was about 35 degrees,  so bird life was very quiet. The best place to see the bird is down the track that leads east from the main information sign, about 200 metres down the Clunes-Maryborough Rd. Turn down the track and after 100 metres you come to one of the strangest signs you’re likely to see in a state reserve – a warning against dumping offal and carcasses. With a penalty of $2000 I’d better be careful not to throw away that dead kangaroo that I’ve got in the back of the car.

A small dam near the south-east border of Dunach: a good site for honeyeaters such as Painted, Black-chinned, Black, Brown-headed, Yellow-tufted, Fuscous and New Holland.

From the offal sign travel about 50 metres and park. This is the southern border of Dunach and the trees in this area, particularly in the paddocks that adjourn the park are full of Mistletoe. Almost immediately we had two immature Painted Honeyeaters next to the car, however we didn’t quite get onto them to confirm their identify. After walking south, and listening out for the distinctive ‘georgie-georgie’ call of the Painted Honeyeater, we came across a small dam. Due to the heat of the day the dam was alive with honeyeaters, coming in to drink. There were large numbers of Brown-headed, Yellow-tufted and New Holland Honeyeaters, the odd Black-chinned and Fuscous Honeyeater, and finally several calling Painted Honeyeater. Yes! Bird number 345. My final bird for the year! By the end of the afternoon we recorded 5 Painted Honeyeater and also of note, a Black-eared Cuckoo.

That night, as part of our New Year’s Eve celebrations, we had BBQ near the golf course at Yarra Bend. This was near the site that an Eastern Koel was seen in 2002. Needless to say I had my ears open for a calling Koel throughout the evening. No such luck!

The year that was 2009
How to sum up 2009. After 12 months of birding I saw 345 species of bird in Victoria – a total achieved with the exclusion of doing any pelagic trips. During the year I visited the follow sites in chronological order. When I look at this list I realise how crazy the whole exercise was – although it was great fun!

From January to March
Northcote (Melb suburb), Toolangi SP, Western Treatment Plant, You Yangs RP, Cape Conran CP, Cabbage Tree Creek Flora Reserve, Croajingolong NP, Cape Howe Wilderness Area, (Mimosa Rocks NP, NSW), Bellarine Peninsula, CERES (Brunswick), Long Forest Nature CR, Wombat SF, Mud Islands, Port Phillip Heads Marine NP, Mill Park Lakes, Apollo Bay and Otway Ranges NP, Point Addis and the Ironbark Basin NR.

April to May
Greater Bendigo NP, Terrick Terrick NP, Lake Tutchewop, Goschen FFR, Lake Boga, Kerang, Boort Lakes, Grampians NP, Wartook State Forest, Little Desert NP, Telopea Downs (near SA border), Big Desert, Wyperfeld NP (south and north), Bronzewing FFR, Walpeup Lake, Timberoo FFR, Murray Sunset NP, Hattah-Kulkyne NP, Lake Tyrrell, Conglomerate FFR, Macedon Ranges, Daylesford, Western Treatment Plant, Dight Falls, Westgate Park, Flagstaff Gardens, WTP.

June to July
WTP (7th time, lost my key and got locked in), Greater Bendigo NP (Kamarooka, Whipstick and south GBNP), Kenneth River, Otway Range NP, Bellarine Peninsula, Point Henry, Moolap Salt Farm, Thirteenth Beach, Black Rocks, Buxton, Alexandra, Cathedral Ranges SP, Lake Mountain, Badgers Weir, Yarra Ranges NP, Chiltern – Mt Pilot National Park, Warby Ranges NP, Thoona, Rushworth SP, Mt Black FR, Heathcote-Graytown NP, Mount Ida Lookout, Yarra Bend Park.

August to September
Port Fairy, Logan’s Beach, Warrnambool, Deen Maar, Yambuk, Glenelg National Park, Rennick State Forest, Portland Harbour and Lee Breakwater, Cape Nelson and Cape Nelson Lighthouse, Lawrence Rocks SFR, Killarney Beach, Braeside Park, Healesville, Badgers Weir – also Cairns, Musgrave, Iron Range NP, Lakesfield NP, Julatten).

October to December
Royal Park, Anakie Gorge, Brisbane Ranges NP, You Yangs SP, WTP, Lake Boga, Goschen FFR, Tresco West FFR, Round Lake, Lake Tyrrell, Greenlake, Reserve, Murray Sunset NP, Mildura Tip (where the Victorian record was broken), Goschen, Lake Boga, Lake Tutchewop, Terrick Terrick NP, Greater Bendigo NP, Otway Ranges NP, Great Ocean Rd, Anglesea Heath, Point Addis, Ironbark Basin, Bellarine Peninsular, Point Lonsdale, You Yangs, WTP, Yielima just north of Nathalia, Barmah SF, Murray River, (Leeton NSW), Tocumwal, DSI Research Station near Rutherglen, Chiltern – Mt Pilot NP, Yarra Bend, Newport Lakes, Bellarine Peninsular, Barwon Heads, Kororoit Creek, Altona CP, Bunyip SF, WTP, Avalon Salt Works, Gray Reserve, Williamstown North, Dunach Nature Conservation Park, and finally back to Northcote.

Victorian Birding Highlights 2009

So what where the birding highlight for the year? Here’s a summary:

Emu (east and west Vic, not central), Magpie Goose (Deen Marr; Reedy Lake); Cape Barren Goose (WTP), Mandarin (Dight Falls, an escapee), Freckled Duck (Drysdale); Plumed Whistling-Duck (Serendip, although not counted), Brown and Stubble, Quail, 4 albatrosses (Wanderer not counted), White-faced Storm-Petrel (on the way to Mud Is), Fluttering Shearwater (also on the way to Mud Is), Australasian Bittern (Reedy Lake), Little Bittern (Mill Park Lakes), Eastern Reef Egret (near Bastion Point), 16 raptors including Square-tailed Kite (Cape Conran), Grey Goshawk (near Apollo Bay, Peregrine (surprisingly few this year, which is worth noting), Black Falcon (WTP, Point Henry, Terrick Terrick) ….

…. Painted Button-quail (Chiltern), Little Button-quail (Terrick Terrick), Lewin’s Rail (The Spit); 3 crake sp including, Spotted Crake (numerous), Spotless Crake (Little Lake Boort), Baillon’s Crake (Mills Park Lake, Little Lake Boort), Bush Stone-curlew (Rutherglen DSI Station), Grey Plover (Mud Is), Lesser Sand Plover (Mud Is), Whimbrel (Barwon Heads), Hooded Plover (numerous), Banded Stilt (Moolap Salt Works), Common Sandpiper (Kororoit Creek), Grey-tailed Tattler (Mud Is), 3 godwits including Hudsonian Godwit (WTP and life tick), Great Knot (WTP, Mud Is), Red Knot (Mud Is), Sanderling (13th Beach, Killarney, Pectoral Sandpiper (WTP), Plains-wanderer (Terrick Terrick), 8 species of tern including Little Tern (Mallacoota), Fairy Tern (Mud Is), White-winged Black Tern (WTP), White-fronted Tern (Cape Nelson), Common Tern (Kirkes Pt), Brown Skua (Portland), Artic Jaeger (Port Philip) ….

…. 11 pigeons including White-headed Pigeon (Gypsy Pt), Topknot Pigeon (Gypsy Pt), Barbary Dove (Williamstown), Diamond Dove (Westgate Park), 29 species of parrot including Red-tailed lack-Cockatoo (Rennick State Forest), Glossy Black-Cockatoo (near Cape Howe), Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo (Little Lake Hattah), Cockatiel (1st seen Goschen), Scaly-breasted Lorikeet (Northcote), Budgerigar 1st seen Goschen), Turquoise Parrot (Chiltern, Warbies), Ground Parrot (Shipwreck Creek), Swift Parrot (Kamarooka); Regent Parrot (Murray Sunset), 5 species of cuckoo including Brush Cuckoo (Toolangi, Mallacoota) and Black-eared Cuckoo (Brisbane Ranges, Dunach), 5 owls including Masked Owl (Cape Conran), Powerful Owl (Flagstaff Gardens), Barking Owl Chiltern-Mt Pilot NP), Barn Owl (Lake Hattah); Boobook, Spotted Nightjar (Wyperfeld) and White-throated Nightjar (Bunyip), Dollarbird (near Barnanwatha Rd) …

… 31 species of honeyeater including Scarlet HE (Mallacoota), Black HE (Goschen, Murray Sunset), Pied HE (Goschen), Purple-gaped HE (Whipstick), White-fronted HE (Little Desert), Painted HE (Dunach); Striped HE (Wyperfeld), 4 corvids including Forest Raven (Otways) and Little Crow (record breaking bird, appropriately seen at Mildura Tip), Cicadabird (Davis Creek, Mallacoota), Black-faced Monarch (Mallacoota), Leaden, Satin and Restless Flycatcher, White-backed Swallow (numerous), Rufous & Brown Songlark (both 1st seen Royal Park), Bassian Thrush (Otways) and Song Thrush (Northcote, Merri Creek), 8 robins including Rose Robin (Mallacoota, Otways), Pink Robin (Toolangi, Howe Flat), Scarlet Robin (a very good year for this bird), Southern Scrub-robin (Wyperfeld – note that I also saw Northern Scrub-robin in 2009), Crested Bellbird (Kamarooka), Olive Whistler (Toolangi, Otways) and Gilbert’s Whistler (Terrick Terrick, Timberoo), Grey-crowned Babbler (Terrick Terrick), White-browed & Chestnut-crowned Babbler (Hattah) , Chestnut Quail-thrush (Bronzewing), Spotted Quail-thrush (described by some as the hardest bird to get in Vic, but mainly because it’s seen at places birders tend not to go)…

…4 fairy-wrens including White-winged Fairy-wren (Lake Tutchewop) and; Splendid Fairy-wren (Wyperfeld), Southern Emu-wren (1st seen Shipwreck Creek) and Mallee Emu-wren (Nowingi Tk), Striated Grasswren (Nowingi Tk), Eastern Bristlebird (Howe Flats), Rufous Bristlebird (1st seen Paradise Rd, Apollo Bay), Pilotbird (Toolangi, Mallacoota), Large-billed Scrubwren (Mallacoota), Redthroat (Wyperfeld), Speckled Warbler (Long Forest, Wartook), Rufous Fieldwren (Lake Tyrrell) Striated Fieldwren (numerous), Chestnut-rumped Heathwren (Mt Ida, Heathcote-Graytown NP) and Shy Heathwren (numerous), 9 Thornbill including Slender-billed Thornbill (Little Desert on Nhill-Harrow Rd) White-throated Gerygone (Mallacoota), Western Gerygone (Yeilima Rd, Chiltern), Brown Gerygone (Mallacoota), Orange Chat (Lake Tyrrell, Lake Tutchewop), Crimson Chat (Goschen, Murray-Sunset), 4 species of Treecreeper including White-browed Treecreeper (Timberoo), Red-browed Treecreeper (Toolangi), Australian Figbird (Mallacoota), Apostlebird (Hattah, Mildura township), 5 species of Woodswallow including White-breasted WS (Lake Boga township), Masked WS (1st seen You Yangs), Black-faced WS (1st seen near Lake Tutchewop), White-browed WS (1st seen Terrick Terrick); Eastern Yellow Wagtail (WTP and life tick) and  8 species of finch including Beautiful Firetail (Mallacoota, Portland) and Diamond Firetail (1st seen Hovell Creek)

I recorded another possible 10 species, which due to a range of reason i.e. lack of confirmation, were not included in the final total. These include Wandering Albatross (Cape Nelson), Great-winged Shearwater (Cape Nelson), Wedge-tailed Shearwater (Cape Howe), Little Stint (WTP), Common Diving-Petrel (Cape Nelson), Sooty Owl (Bunyip), Plumed Whistling-Duck (Serendip), and a few non-tickable species such as Indian Peafowl (Newlyn) and Mandarin Duck (Dight Falls).

Of interest I during the year also recorded 31 different species of mammal in Victoria – but that’s another story!

Best birds and worst dips
Best birds would have to be the Eastern Yellow Wagtail and Hudsonian Godwit, both vagrants and both life ticks. Other nice birds include White-headed Pigeon, Figbird, Eastern Bristlebird, Masked Owl, Ground Parrot, Red-tailed and Glossy Black-Cockatoo (both see within a km of the Victoria border – one the NSW border the other the SA border), Plains Wanderer, 3 obliging Brown Skua at Portland, and the great birds of Goschen FFR, such as Pied and Black Honeyeater, Crimson Chat, Cockatiel and Budgerigar

Dips included (with sites targeted in brackets):

Malleefowl (tried a few places including Bronzewing, a site which reportedly has more Malleefowl per sq km than any other site), Spotted Harrier (specifically targeted a western edge of Wyperfeld, north of Terricks, Avalon etc), Long-toed Stint (WTP), Eastern Koel (Yarra Bend, Newport Lakes, etc), Superb Parrot (near Barmah), Orange-bellied Parrot (Spit), Australian Bustard (Telopena Down), Red-backed Kingfisher (Michael Ramsey had a bird nailed to a powerline for me to see in Rutherglen), Sooty Owl (Yarra Ranges, Bunyip), Australian Pratincole (Simon Starr had a few near him in Pyramid Hill that he’d glued to the ground), Red-lored Whistler (Murray Sunset), Scarlet-chested Parrot (Vic Hurley had a tip for me, however  I ran out of time to follow up) and Regent Honeyeater (I targeted Chiltern, and there 3 birds near Paynesville, which I ran out of time to follow up).

A little visited birding site. Rennick State Forest

Most of these I would’ve have seen with some ease in previous years, and I had good sites for all them. As you can see, most of the above I targeted at least twice. More specifically I had planned to clean most of these species at the end of the year during December. However I’d already broken the VicTwitch record at the beginning of November so the imperative to “chase” birds for the “record” lost its VicTwitch edge. Also life took over – you know – family, work and Christmas. And then at the end of the year there was the release of Where to See Birds in Victoria – and also a side trip to the Iron Range on Cape York, far north Queensland.

Thanks to all those who help throughout the year. I won’t name names, in case I leave someone out. Thanks specifically to Jon Thornton for the use of some of his great photographs.

Now I need to chase up my sponsorship for the Australian Wildlife Health Centre at Healesville Sanctuary!

Finally good luck to anyone else attempting a VicTwitch. The record now stands at 345. Good luck to Mick Roderick who is doing a HunterTwitch 2010. I look forward to following your exploits throughout the year.

Cheers,

Tim Dolby

The Victoria border! The Murray River near Howlong. I’ve crossed the Victorian border many times during 2009: from far east Victoria near Croajingolong, far west near Portland, to central Victoria near Tocumwal and Howlong.

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