John Newman & Craig Morley

July is certainly giving us some wild and windy weather around Geelong, the Surf Coast and the Bellarine Peninsula interspersed with some glorious winter sunshine. Bird records have been submitted regularly this month that reflect these varied conditions right across the Geelong region.

An eagle-eyed observed  discovered  a Spotted Harrier at Balliang principally by noting the characteristic flight pattern, ‘floating’ close to the ground and crops which is enabled by very long and relatively broad wings, essential when hunting for rodents and birds in the crops and pastureland.  White morph Grey Goshawks always garner much attention when they are seen and this month a bird has been seen at Balyang Sanctuary and Moorak Park in Newtown and also at Breakwater, presumably using the Barwon River riparian zone to travel and hunt. An Australian Hobby was seen at Lake Connewarre plucking and devouring a Welcome Swallow, at dusk on a day of heavy overcast, a sure sign of the finely honed hunting skills of this small falcon.

We have not had a lot of records of pelagic birds this month, no doubt hampered by lockdown rules keeping people close to home, but a feeding flock of 50 Australasian Gannets in Corio Bay was notable. Several records of Gull-billed (Australian) Terns are most pleasing as this is a rare species across the Geelong region so it was with great interest that one bird was seen during the winter wader count at Reedy Lake and two birds were noted at Swan Bay jetty. In late June two lovely White-fronted Terns were photographed at Point Roadknight resting on the sand in the company of Crested Terns and, in early July, two White-fronted Terns were observed and photographed loafing on the rock platform at Point Grey, Lorne – a good location to start looking, during winter, for this elusive and exciting species. While on the topic of terns an iNaturalist record of a weathered but very recognisable beach-cast White Tern, along the Surf Coast, was nothing short of extraordinary. Though we shouldn’t rush to add it to the list of bird species for the Geelong region, on the basis of a dead bird that was possibly drifting for 100s of km,  it is fascinating to contemplate the distance to the nearest breeding colony of these extraordinarily beautiful all white sea-faring birds. This is the species which breeds on Lord Howe Island laying a single egg directly on to a bare branch. Find out more by following this link to eBird .

Wetlands are currently very full and some breeding behaviour is being noted by observant naturalists. Australian Wood Ducks were seen to be quite agitated in the Long Forest around tree hollows as competition for suitable breeding locations intensifies. Black Swans are doing well at Breamlea/Bancoora in the saltmarsh with all four cygnets surviving to date. Enormous numbers of Eurasian Coot, estimated to be at least 8500, were on Lake Connewarre in the lee of Campbell Point sheltering from a blustery south-wester and a huge flock of Royal Spoonbills, close to 150 birds, was seen foraging in the shallows of Swan Bay.

Our very varied woodlands and farmlands have really given us much joy this month in the form of great bird sightings. Brown Treecreepers and Diamond Firetails are rarely recorded in our region now and one of the last strongholds for both species is the northern Brisbane Ranges where both species were recorded. A pair of the elusive Spotted Quail-thrush was seen nearby. Crested Shrike-tits are also difficult to pin down and so an extended view at Lerderderg River walk was a thrill. At least one Pink Robin and a Bassian Thrush are still present in Geelong Botanic Gardens for the patient observer and a Pink Robin was also seen at Yarram Creek close to the shore of Swan Bay.  A really interesting record of a mid-winter Shining Bronze-Cuckoo was noted at Edwards Point. It won’t be too long before our full suite of cuckoos begins arriving for spring.

Low numbers of Swift Parrots continue to utilise the flowering gums of the You Yangs and also Deakin University at Waurn Ponds.  An enormous number of 58 Striated Fieldwrens was recorded by cautious and careful observers, in an area of 80 ha of saltmarsh on private property, to the south-east of Lake Connewarre, surely reinforcing the fact that this system, more broadly, is a real stronghold for the species.

There is a complete summary of wader records for the July Winter Wader Count submitted separately in this edition of Geelong Naturalist but it is very interesting to note a single critically endangered Eastern Curlew was seen at Thirteenth Beach and later at Swan Island, almost certainly the same bird, indicating at least some movement between these two shorebird systems.

Once again our sincere thanks go to the myriad observers who submit their highlight records to our club web-site or incidental records and/or complete lists to eBird Australia.

Remember to log-in to make the most of the species maps and records in eBird.