John Newman & Craig Morley

It is quite remarkable, looking through the extensive list of bird records submitted since the last summary was written, to consider the wonderful variety of sightings. It does encompass two months of records rather than the usual single month but it is truly outstanding what has been seen in our district over the Christmas weeks. Good water levels have been maintained in many wetlands and had ample grass-growth in our grasslands and verdant growth in our forests with a corresponding surge in insect and blossom production so birds have been very prominent.

Summer is a wonderful time for migratory shorebirds and terns and this year has been particularly rich in species recorded locally as the GFNC observations page and eBird records attest. The standout shorebird has been the recently discovered vagrant Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Lake Modewarre. Making the most of the extensive muddy lake shore and grassy margins, this eye-catching buffy-apricot shorebird would usually spend its life migrating between the North American tundra, where the species breeds, and short-grassed open habitat in South America. This bird has been off course and ended up west of Geelong. We last had this species in our region, in January 2017, at Lake Murdeduke. It is sharing the same lake edge with a rare Pectoral Sandpiper and up to 1200 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. Three Wood Sandpipers have been utilising a drainage pond in an area ear-marked by developers as sporting fields, amidst a new peri-urban development at Mt Duneed. This is not far from Reedy Lake which is the more usual habitat for this uncommon spring-summer migrant to our region. A Common Sandpiper and Sanderling and Pacific Golden Plovers, in low number, have all been seen using the rock platforms at Blue Rocks and the associated sandy beach. All are hard to come by in the Geelong District these days. Black- tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers at Lake Connewarre have also been seen. It’s an impressive Geelong list along with the more usual resident and migratory birds. And we should not forget a breeding record of Red-kneed Dotterel at Avalon Saltworks during a recent survey. Latham’s Snipe continues to be reported in good numbers locally this season reflecting our good conditions and a lot of observer effort.

Our tern list is similarly impressive. Common Terns are, despite the name, uncommon in our region and so two separate records, at Avalon and Blue Rocks, are tremendous. It’s always a treat to see Gull-billed Terns, so recent records from lakes Modewarre and Murdeduke were noteworthy and Whiskered Terns and a solitary White-winged Black Tern are using the Hospital Swamp-Sparrovale complex. There are also many of the former species at Reedy Lake. It was a huge thrill to see a Caspian Tern wheeling about over the Barwon River at Balyang Sanctuary on the recent club excursion.  Little Terns breeding at Avalon Saltworks and Fairy Terns at Point Henry were a thrill to see and two Arctic Jaegers harassing two Galahs, at Hospital Swamp, was an astounding record for this master of the open ocean.

A Powerful Owl calling at Distillery Creek was a joy to hear deep into the night and a Spotted Harrier at Reedy Lake, in fresh juvenile plumage, was a great record. We have many dozens of raptor records covering eleven or more species over this period. Stubble Quail records are numerous and well dispersed and a record of two Brown Quail a Balliang is noteworthy. Our good freshwater wetland conditions have given rise to records of Spotless Crake and Lewin’s Rail at Hospital Swamp and Baillon’s Crake at Reedy Lake. 

The remnant Grey Box forest at Eynesbury continue to provide habitat for a suite of  outstanding dry country birds that we rarely see within our recording area – Diamond Firetail, Zebra Finch, Southern Whiteface and the very special Black-eared Cuckoo.

Little Lorikeets in Ocean Grove and also at Serendip, are pleasing and an Azure Kingfisher fishing at Lake Elizabeth, near Forrest, completed a satisfying suite of wet forest spring birds for the fortunate observer. And a Chestnut-rumped Heathwren, in the Anglesea Heath, was a beautiful bird to behold.

Restless Flycatcher breeding records are few, so a pair feeding a fledgling at Whoorel was a great record. Similarly Crested Shrike-tit breeding records are scarce with their devilishly hidden nests high in the canopy. Three adults with two immatures ‘learning the ropes’ at Bacchus Marsh and two fledged juveniles repeatedly begging and fed by an adult male and female at Teesdale Grassy Woodlands were exciting for the observers. The Highton Pacific Koel is still keeping the neighbours awake. It would be wonderful to determine more certainly how many birds are present. This could be done quite easily if each observer recorded the time and place when one is heard calling. It is also important to note that the male of the species also utters the wurra wurra call. The call unique to the female of the species is best described, in The Australian Bird Guide,  as ‘a series of shrill brassy shrieks keek-keek-keek.’   

Last but definitely not least we must mention a record of a Gould’s Petrel along the west end of the Ocean Grove beach. This is an extraordinary record of a small, lightly built Pterodroma petrel that is normally found in pelagic waters beyond the continental shelf mostly off the eastern seaboard from southern Queensland to South Australia from November to April. Sincere thanks go to this keen and prepared observer along with the more than 40 keen observers who submitted records over December and January and directly to eBird