…John Newman & Craig Morley

This edition of bird notes covers two months and as you read through it is hard not to be dazzled by the sheer number of breeding records that our many observers have noted and submitted to the web-site as well as the very many records submitted directly to eBird Australia. These records cover a wide array of species across many habitats and continue to reinforce the fact that the Bellarine Peninsula, Surf Coast and Otway Ranges continue to be gems of Victoria birding. In addition to these breeding records there are many interesting species sighted since our last edition.

There are at least nineteen species recorded breeding lately in our area. We have wonderfully detailed records of our critically important Little Egret colony, happily shared with Nankeen Night-Herons, at Queenscliff with at least 17 juveniles and 6 juveniles respectively. Please enjoy the details of these methodical observations.  Australasian Shovelers with young are a rarity on the Bellarine, so seven small ducklings at Portarlington were noteworthy and Chestnut Teal with young nearby at the same site was a delight. We rarely receive records of Australian Spotted Crakes breeding but with Bancoora Saltmarsh being a crake haven recently it was very satisfying to see a record of two adults with two immatures there. Black-fronted Dotterels with young at Marcus Hill were noted and Australasian Grebes were seen with young in Eastern Park and on a nest in Ocean Grove. And writing of waterbirds there are numerous species breeding at Lake Lorne, including at least three clutches of Hardhead, a species infrequently observed breeding in our part of the world.

Changing our focus to land-based birds, an Australasian Pipit carrying food was seen at Werneth, a Black-faced Cuckooshrike juvenile at Bannockburn and one carrying food at Connewarre and Blue-winged Parrot juveniles at Connewarre, identified by their bone-coloured bills,  along with other records of this species from the Brisbane Ranges were all important and worthwhile records.  Crested Shrike-tits at Rice Reserve were seen with young and these too are rarely detected breeding locally. Dusky Woodswallows are more obvious with their breeding and so records at Curlewis, Bannockburn, Connewarre, Leopold and Batesford gave insight into how widespread this endearing species is across our region. An interesting record of Fairy Martins breeding on a wall at Torquay was also of note. Some dead birds at the foot of the wall, remind us of the perils of safely rearing young to adult hood. Sacred Kingfishers are also currently breeding along the Barwon River in Newtown.

Raptor breeding records have been numerous with Australian Hobbies with two juveniles at the old Geelong Golf Course, Brown Falcons at various stages of breeding in many locations including the western plains and Leopold. Collared Sparrowhawks with young were seen at Wingeel and a begging young white morph Grey Goshawk at Kawarren was a great record. Swamp Harriers have finally been confirmed to be breeding at our beloved Jerringot after several years of suspicious activity at the site where richly coloured chocolate brown fledgling is being taught the ropes by diligent parents.

Moving on from breeding records there has been a number of outstanding bird sightings in our area of late. Quite a few people enjoyed seeing the remarkable local Dollarbird around the Ocean Grove/Wallington area. Initially identified at Portarlington in early December, it may well be the same bird that became a bit more reliable at Ocean Grove. Another record of this species was also submitted from Distillery Creek near Aireys Inlet and a record, in late January, from the western plantation at the You Yangs strongly suggests there may well be more than one individual in our midst. Keep an eye out and please keep the records rolling in! One species that has attracted a lot of local attention is the Whimbrel seen on Thompson Creek estuary at Breamlea. It is uncommon in our region, possibly becoming less frequent, so it was gratifying for keen observers to be able to see it locally again. Up to 10 Eastern Curlews have been seen on the Barwon estuary at low tide. Up to 1100 Banded Stilts at Moolap Saltworks was an astounding number.

Another species that’s always worth the effort of stopping to enjoy is the Australasian Bushlark. An enthralled observer at Barunah Park stopped to observe one perched on a stone fence as it proceeded to sing, over two 4 min periods, with mimicry of Stubble Quail, Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo, New Holland Honeyeater, Willie Wagtail, Rainbow Lorikeet, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Eurasian Skylark, Common Starling, Black-faced Cuckooshrike, Golden-headed Cisticola, Superb Fairywren, Australasian Pipit, Brown Songlark, White-browed Woodswallow, Welcome Swallow, House Sparrow, European Goldfinch. Quite an astonishing and memorising performance – 17 species!

The third Latham’s Snipe Count for the spring/summer took place in January. It was pleasing to see numerous records of this species submitted with significant numbers from the Birregurra district. A Spotless Crake at Balyang Sanctuary has been seen several times despite the species’ renowned secretive and cryptic habits. Pacific Koel records continue to come in from the Highton and a record from Rice Reserve at Connewarre was very interesting. A small group of Scarlet Honeyeaters has persisted at Long Forest over the spring and summer and a Rufous Bristlebird heard clearly at Gellibrand, a bare minimum of 28 km from the coast, reminds us that these cryptic birds can penetrate a long way inland in the Otway Ranges. Powerful Owls are always a thrill to hear calling and She-Oaks Picnic Ground was just such a location in December. Brown Quail and Stubble Quail records from west of Inverleigh thrilled the diligent observer, especially a record of 35 (probably 40+) of the latter all calling and counted carefully along 1 km of a drying wheat crop, in 25 min from 21:10. On a clear moonless evening after a day of 35°C the observer was marvelling at the experience and then realised all calling had stopped, by 21:35, as last light faded. Local sunset had been 20:50.

Finally we finish off with two stunning aerialists – each so special in their own particular way. A large female Black Falcon circling high overhead keeping a watch circling over burning stubble at Pitfield was exhibiting behaviour typical of the species – watching for prey burnt or displaced by the flames and smoke. These birds are also known for their habit of harassing other birds Little Ravens, Black Kites, Brown Falcons and even their own kind to steal a food item. A solitary White-throated Needletail, at Indented Heads, is one of the very few records so far this season of this species. Hopefully as summer continues we will see more of these magnificent masters of flight over our Geelong region.

Please keep looking and enjoying and recording our fabulous birds!

Thanks once again to the many keen, interested, dedicated and diligent observers and recorders of our birds!  You will find many of the records we have mentioned here, along with many others, on our web-site https://www.gfnc.org.au/observations/bird-observations

and please log in to https://ebird.org/australia/explore and use the ‘species map’ option and narrow the date range to Dec-Jan and 2021-2022 and search for the sightings of various species recorded in our region in recent weeks.