…John Newman and Craig Morley
The period from mid-August through September and into October is a fascinating time to be looking at birds in south-eastern Australia and our own patch on the Bellarine Peninsula and Surf Coast is a key area for great bird diversity that many enjoy. This month’s observations have captured a tremendous variety of records of local resident birds in breeding mode along with the return of migrants.
The return of some of the cuckoos is often much anticipated and, in recent weeks, an outstanding richness of species has been recorded. The rare Black-eared Cuckoo has been recorded at Avalon and a Brush Cuckoo, a locally uncommon species, was observed in the wooded roadside along Nortons Road, Paraparap. We usually only have one or two records of each species submitted for any given spring season. Pallid Cuckoos are more regular and readily identified by their strident, ascending multi-note call. Returning from further north over summer they were recorded at Meredith in late August, Inverleigh and Steiglitz in early September and now the Bellarine Peninsula with records from farmland in Wallington and Connewarre by mid-September and, of course, we all await the return of the rare, but now regular, Pacific Koel.
Australian Reed Warblers similarly are usually detected first by their penetrating calls from dense reed beds near rivers and watercourses and are a welcome sign of spring’s return. They have now been detected at several sites locally and will soon become a major part of the background birdsong at many local wetlands over the months of spring and summer. Fairy Martins have also been seen from mid-August onwards initially at St Albans Park, Torquay, Fyansford and Reedy Lake. Many culverts and creek crossings will soon house their reliable colony of these graceful birds. The first White-winged Triller has been noted at Cargerie and hopefully this season will see more of these birds across our region.
Other examples of local bird movement this month have been up to 100 Grey Fantails along the length of Nortons Road and Crescent Honeyeaters at Jan Juc at the margin of their usual dense habitat.
The other group of birds that are much anticipated at this time of year are the migratory shorebirds returning from the breeding areas of the Arctic north. Sure enough, the earliest returns in the form of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers have been seen mid-August at the new developing wetlands of Sparrovale at Charlemont and soon after with records at Torquay and Moolap. A single Curlew Sandpiper at Torquay was a treat. The stately Eastern Curlew, so dangerously threatened with extinction, has returned to the Barwon Estuary in small numbers. The first record for the season of returning Latham’s Snipe this year goes to several birds seen at Connewarre on August 26. Many birders love their local Masked Lapwings, a resident Australian shorebird. They are masters of suburban survival and often raise a family on roadside nature strips and busy roundabouts. Many records this month document in detail the trials and tribulations of local Lapwing families.
Other wetland bird records of note have included an Australasian Darter at the Barwon Estuary, ocean-side Australasian Shovelers also at the Barwon Estuary as well as Torquay and Breamlea. Brolgas are back at Reedy Lake and Hospital Swamp and a few wintering Cattle Egrets persist at St Albans Park.
Kelp Gulls are always a treat on our coast and an Ocean Grove bird was photographed and enjoyed.
An Osprey seen in mangroves at the Barwon Estuary was an excellent find. These large fish-eating raptors are classified as rare in our region and very occasionally drift along our coast. Peregrine Falcons never fail to thrill with their supreme mastery of the air and hunting prowess and a pair at Moolap may hopefully have success in breeding. A Barwon Estuary bird was also noted this month. Australasian Hobby records around town similarly continue to impress.
Few people seek nocturnal bird records on a regular basis but thankfully we have a few diligent birders who are very keen. Searching the northern dry woodlands and forests around Steiglitz, the Brisbane Ranges and Bamganie, in recent weeks, has proved fruitful with numerous confirmed records of Powerful Owl and Southern Boobook. Similarly Barn Owl records continue to be submitted from the Connewarre area.
Bassian Thrush records this month provided a fascinating insight into the behaviour of this species with birds singing in the rain and also several of these birds were collecting and carrying worms and considered to be breeding – very important records as, over the years, we have few breeding records of this cryptic and secretive species. Blue-winged Parrots feeding at the tip of Point Addis was a treat and a Little Wattlebird in suburban Hamlyn Heights a great pick up. A phenomenally large flock of 113 Pied Currawongs, at Cape Otway, really drew attention and the triumph of finding both Rose and Pink Robins in their Otway stronghold was a thrill. A female Zebra Finch in the company of House Sparrows, at Curlewis, was an interesting and curious record and large flocks of Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, numbering 100-200, are still being recorded on the Peninsula and at Cargerie to the north-west.
Once more we thank the observers who take the time to submit their fascinating records to the club data-base and/or directly to eBird Australia. These records continue to captivate and inform us as the season changes thereby building a picture of changes in our local avifauna over the longer term.