…John Newman and Craig Morley

This winter month of July has had a good number of sunny, still days with cold frosty mornings and from the bird records submitted this month it would seem that birders have been out and about enjoying the many interesting bird appearances.  Winter can be considered a less engaging time for birds than the other seasons but there’s always something to look at and enjoy there is much on offer to read via the link to this month’s comprehensive list https://www.gfnc.org.au/observations/bird-observations and of course you can add incidental and complete lists to eBird Australia: https://ebird.org/australia/region/AU-VIC-GGE?yr=all&m=&rank=mrec&sortBy=cl

Upon reading the very varied records submitted there were several records of bird breeding and also interesting appearances that warranted further consideration.

Black Swans this month have been recorded with 6 recently fledged young at Breamlea in saltmarsh and at Jerringot, Belmont Common with 4 cygnets in freshwater.  The Geelong Bird Report (GBR) notes the species as a common, breeding resident and widespread on a variety of wetlands and sheltered marine waters. And the 2013-2016 edition notes regular records of Black Swans with cygnets in almost every month of the year with occupied nests from May to December. The characteristic appearance of cygnets, still grey, downy and flightless, is an excellent guide to local breeding. September to January appear to be the peak months. So July nests at Breamlea and Belmont are not altogether unexpected but certainly noteworthy as we continue to build the picture of the fascinating birdlife of our region. No doubt local water levels and food reserves contribute to variation in the timing of breeding.

Black Swans were known as Koonawarra as reported in Trevor Pescott’s ‘Geelong’s Birdlife in Retrospect – A selection of Geelong Advertiser articles by P.J.W 1945-1958 ’. Connewarre, a variant of this name, also used by the local Aboriginal people to denote this engaging bird so Lake Connewarre is aptly named when the many 100s of swans that use it regularly are recalled.  Swan shooting was a popular pastime prior to World War II and local breeding was almost unknown during the peak of this activity.  Cessation of this in the 1930s and the ban on open duck seasons during the War allowed the local populations to build up and local breeding began again. It would be unthinkable now to be without the engaging vision of a pair of diligent parent swans and the procession of downy cygnets in tow on many of our local waterways.

Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoos have been calling from locations such as Lake Connewarre over recent weeks. The GBR confirms that occasional winter birds are recorded from varied habitats. The majority of these glossy brood-parasites utilise the nests other bird species with unwary parents into raising them as their own. The recording rate graphs in the Geelong Bird Report 2013-2016 clearly show that August to November are the main months to record this small bronze-cuckoo, in our region, when their mournful calls can be frequently heard across numerous habitats. And, of course, Fan-tailed Cuckoos have been calling across many parts of the region through June and July as expected per the reporting rate GBR 2013-2016 p72. Pallid Cuckoos are rarely recorded in our region from May to the end of the third week of August so a record of a silent bird in flight, from Point Henry, in July is noteworthy. The reporting rate (GBR 2013-2016 p70) of this species for the Geelong region certainly increases in the last week of August and through November. Hairy caterpillars are a favourite food of this species and the number of records we receive for a season varies significantly one year to the next. Let’s wait and see if the spring-summer of 2020-21 is a ‘big year’ for Pallid Cuckoos.  

Moving to the coast, another theme that has been evident this month is the larger-than-normal numbers of Sooty Oystercatchers seen on the coast between Barwon Heads and Fairhaven. Ten in the Aireys Inlet district and nine at Barwon Heads were most noteworthy. Utilising rocky shores and tidal mudflats, these uniformly dark shorebirds with brilliant red straight bill and legs are more likely in higher numbers further west along the rocky coast beyond Lorne so it was with delight that they have been seen in higher numbers on our more populated coast. There are no breeding records in the GBR 2013-2016 for this species, so diligent observing may pay off. The Sooty Oystercatcher is also known to occasionally pair with the closely related Australian Pied Oystercatcher and Moolap Saltworks is a site where individuals of these two species are sometimes seen associating. While we are on the topic of shorebirds, it is most important to note and acknowledge an extraordinary number of 1500+ Double-banded Plovers recorded on a full survey of Lake Murdeduke. And it’s also interesting to be reminded, with a record of seven at Blue Rocks, that this is a site where Sanderling can gather in higher numbers.  

With some honourable mentions for a White-headed Pigeon at Ocean Grove Nature Reserve an Eastern Barn Owl calling at 4a.m. near Leopold and, at the time of writing, the Pink and Rose Robins showing nicely in the Geelong Botanic Gardens, it is well worth reminding everyone to look over the entire month’s records as many interesting species and behaviours have been noted. And the Geelong Bird Report 2013-2016 can be downloaded as a pdf from https://www.gfnc.org.au/about-us/publications

Thank you to all the observers, at this least 44 in this current crop, who have so keenly and willingly recorded their bird observations.