John Newman & Craig Morley

The passing of summer’s heat and the loss of early morning sunlight in recent weeks herald the onset of autumn, the still days, sunshine with less intensity and calm waters mark autumn with a beauty all of its own. Birdlife over this season similarly has its own special appeal most obviously marked by bird movement to and from our region. Some birds dispersing after breeding in the cool forests of the Otway Ranges, whilst others that breed in Tasmania arrive seeking the somewhat milder climate of southern Victoria for winter. Some of these species will remain here for the whole winter, others are passing through en route to a milder climate further north. Some species arrived in spring from Australia’s north to escape the intense heat and rain that summer brings, to breed in our relatively milder summer locales. Many of these species are now heading north to continue the cycle. All in all it’s a very exciting place to be at the moment and the many sightings submitted to our Club web-site and via eBird illustrate a lot of these movements.

The Geelong Botanic Gardens has long been known as a bird haven and late summer through autumn and into winter when wonderful species not often seen in urban Geelong arrive and can be enjoyed by the keen observer. Many of these species follow a predictable arrival date and so can be anticipated fairly accurately. If we consider the line graphs generated in eBird from data submitted for Eastern Park and Geelong Botanic Gardens from 2000 to current we discover Rufous Fantails, often seen in the shady rainforest garden, may arrive in the second week of February with a peak in the third week of March. Rose Robins arrive in the first week in March, reaching a peak in the third week of March with records continuing on and off through to the second week of August. So far, in 2022, at least two Rose Robins have been seen, one with a lovely deep pink breast. A female Satin Flycatcher was an unexpected delight for a patient careful observer and also in the Gardens Golden Whistler, Eastern Spinebills and good numbers of Grey Fantails, the latter, mostly passing through have been noted. A total of ten Brown Thornbills, including some juveniles being fed, was a record high number for the species in long-running surveys at this site. A female Superb Fairywren was also an unusual bird for the Gardens, perhaps wandering from Limeburners Point. In recent days a much-anticipated Pink Robin, as usual a ‘brown bird’, has turned up and, perhaps, we may be treated to a Bassian Thrush in coming weeks in the Geelong Botanic Gardens.

Many other great sightings have flooded in also from far and wide. Gang-gang Cockatoos are being seen widely around the suburbs enjoying fruiting trees, expertly extracting the seeds from the fleshy fruit. Many sightings comprise small, presumably, family groups. A Painted Buttonquail seen in the Otway Ranges was in surprising wet forest habitat and the pair of Powerful Owls located close to Forrest was a treat. Rose Robins have also been observed through the wetter areas of Forrest and Apollo Bay recently. Rufous Fantails have also been located ‘on passage’ as far afield as Bellbrae, Ironbark Basin and Ocean Grove Nature Reserve. Ocean Grove has also been the scene of another Satin Flycatcher record and our first Swift Parrots for the season. Nearby at Barwon Heads, a lone White-throated Needletail was seen ahead of a thunderstorm.

Silvereyes have been more numerous in recent weeks, some sporting the rich rufous flanks of the Tasmanian lateralis subspecies.  Varied Sitellas at Ironbark Basin were a great find and a noisy flock of Yellow Thornbills in a suburban park in Newtown were busy in the company of Brown Thornbills and Spotted Pardalotes. Several Grey Fantails of the Tasmanian subspecies albiscapa were seen around Apollo Bay sporting darker sooty grey plumage and minimal white in the tail.

A young Kelp Gull at Apollo Bay was very satisfying and four Red Knots at Lake Victoria was a good record for the last weeks of the migratory wader season. A record of 2750 Australian Shelduck at Lake Murdeduke made a fabulous sight and a lone Latham’s Snipe at Jerringot in Belmont must have been pretty well the last to leave for the breeding ground back in Japan. Breamlea saltmarsh continues to provide good habitat for Buff-banded Rail, Spotless Crake and Australian Spotted Crake.

Raptors continue to captivate and excite! Wedge-tailed Eagles were recorded in several locations over the Bellarine Peninsula including 4 together over Collendina. A Peregrine Falcon was enjoyed at Apollo Bay as were several sightings of white morph Grey Goshawks, including an adult female in Eastern Park, with unidentified prey in its feet, which had at least 8 other species very agitated. A Black Falcon at Winchelsea was a great record and a big surprise as it languidly circled into view causing a big stir amongst the 4000 Little Corellas in the vicinity. The observer returned later in the day and found at least 5000 Little Corellas but, alas, no Black Falcon! Australian Hobby records have also been widespread through March from a wide variety of habitats and locations including a juvenile loudly chasing and harassing a second bird presumably, an adult or a sibling, with food.