John Newman & Craig Morley
When we wrote about the joys of local birding last year amid weeks of COVID-19 related strict lockdown conditions across Victoria, it probably wasn’t in our sights that twelve months later we would be doing the same. It has been an interesting month for us all with some weeks of regional travel permitted prior to last week’s return to full lockdown conditions and the 5km limit again in place for our essential binocular-carrying exercise. Reflecting this situation are the GFNC bird records with plenty of wonderful observations from all corners of our region as well as a great number of interesting (very) local records.
Spring is an eagerly anticipated time for birders with the return of many migratory species welcoming warmer and longer days. Spring also marks the final sightings of other birds that move away further south to Tasmania over summer or higher into the Otways Ranges. The tremendous records submitted over the past month capture the arrival of many of these migratory species that we will enjoy over our southern spring and summer. Fairy Martins have been seen in Fyansford, Sparrovale and Swan Island where a very strong NW wind caused a bird to struggle past at eye-level, within metres of the stunned observer, affording excellent naked-eye views of the salient ID features – tiny martin with white rump and rusty crown! Tree Martins have also marked their return with records coming from Swan Bay and Sparrovale. A Shining Bronze-Cuckoo calling at Gherang Gherang was a welcome record and the unmistakable liquid call of an Olive -backed Oriole at Distillery Creek was pleasing for August. Swift Parrots have been persisting for weeks now in small numbers at Deakin University Waurn Ponds with up to six birds and will soon leave for the southern forests of eastern Tasmania.
Spring can be a time of unusual bird movements due, perhaps, to difficult conditions elsewhere or perhaps exceptional local conditions that allow birds to move further afield than normally expected. Long Forest, near Bacchus Marsh, has been the site for many unusual birds over the years and this month a series of Crescent Honeyeater records was remarkable – a noteworthy distance away from the coastal wet forests we usually associate with this honeyeater. This was soon eclipsed by a calling Scarlet Honeyeater. Many birders will remember the irruption of Scarlet Honeyeaters into our region in late 2017 delighting many and allowing us to become familiar with the musical piping call. It was this call that attracted the Long Forest observer. So keep an ear out over the weeks ahead and perhaps more birds might be detected in our region. Follow this link to eBird and have a listen to the Scarlet Honeyeater (Scarlet Myzomela). https://ebird.org/media/catalog?taxonCode=scamyz1®ionCode=&mediaType=a
Speaking of rarities that can turn up from time to time, when travel restrictions allow (or you live within 5km of a good vantage point!) remember that it can be hard to beat a good sea-watch with a recent wonderful reminder of the excitement that can ensue with the confirmation of a Buller’s Albatross at Black Rocks https://ebird.org/australia/checklist/S93512172 .
Spring is also a time to see the last of the altitudinal migrants, birds spending winter foraging in our lower altitude local region prior to their return to higher forests and gullies of the Otways Ranges where they breed over summer. Bassian Thrush and Pink Robin have persisted over many winter weeks at the Geelong Botanic Gardens, this year, quietly living in the rainforest area, visible to the patient observer. They will leave soon hopefully to re-appear here next autumn. Pink Robins have also been seen in the Brisbane Ranges along with closely related Rose Robins also observed in the Brisbane Ranges and Distillery Creek near Aireys Inlet.
Regional travel earlier in the month did allow for a full survey of Lake Murdeduke near Winchelsea, a true gem on the local bird scene and site of several rarities over the years. Access is not easy and the winter rain has made for a lot of ‘muddy margins’. A large flock of Banded Stilts, in the order of 16,800, was seen and a Little Stint. Almost indistinguishable from a Red-necked Stint, especially in non-breeding plumage, the careful observers noted subtle plumage differences of the breeding plumage of this very rare migratory shorebird to our region and confirmed this astonishing find. The survey also confirmed high numbers of Double-banded Plovers and the critically endangered Curlew Sandpiper. A much smaller flock of Banded Stilts was seen at nearby Lake Modewarre in August. The season’s first returned Latham’s Snipe was found at Lara, a great early record for his migratory shorebird and a lone Eastern Curlew has spent the winter around the Barwon Estuary. Hopefully it will be joined by other birds as the migratory waders return in the weeks ahead.
Lake Colac was a wonderful place to see fifteen Great Egrets and a flock of Cattle Egrets has seemingly found refuge in a flooded paddock in Corio. Kelp Gulls are not often seen on our coastline so two birds, of different ages, together at Blue Rocks were a good and educational find. Three White-fronted Terns roosting, with many Crested Terns, at the end of the day at Apollo Bay was a thrill. These White-fronted Terns will soon return across the Tasman Sea to summer in New Zealand, though there is a small population that breed in the Furneaux Group of islands in Bass Strait.
Venturing out at night is often rewarding for recording nocturnal birds and so Southern Boobook owl records this month cover many different areas and give some indication of how widespread they are. Bacchus Marsh and Highton as well as the heavily forested areas of Distillery Creek and Moggs Creek all had calling birds this month.
A Black Falcon, seen at Hospital Swamp, was most noteworthy after a recent paucity of records of this thrilling raptor and multiple records of white morph Grey Goshawks have enthralled observers in recent weeks with sightings from multiple areas along the Barwon River from Highton and Newtown, Fyansford as well as a bird at Lake Colac. And sightings of Spotted Harriers, the uncommon but gloriously plumaged raptor of the open plains, with an adult male and immature female west of Winchelsea, caused great excitement and much appreciation at the end of a long and thoroughly enjoyable day of Landcare surveys.
Sincere thanks once more to the keen and diligent observers who continue to submit records to the GFNC web-site or directly to eBird as incidentals or complete lists.