…John Newman & Craig Morley
When reading through the submitted bird records of the last month from the many keen birders of the Geelong region you will see a dazzling array of observations that illustrates the many joys of autumn birding.
Some glorious sunny weather has remained with us over recent weeks and no doubt enticed people out into the wetlands, forests, plains and beaches. We are still seeing a lot of autumn bird movement. Honeyeaters are now fairly obviously moving around with many fascinating records of Yellow-faced Honeyeaters and a few of White-naped Honeyeaters moving in small to larger flocks. Some observers are noting these birds utilising tree plantations and shelterbelts in open country or roadside vegetation, ‘rolling’ along with intermittent stops, calling regularly. Once more emphasising the need for plantings of this type to provide corridors for birds and other wildlife to move and migrate! Singing Honeyeaters have also been recorded in several new locations (Limeburners Point and Eastern Park) this month probably moving about from Pt Henry and other known haunts further east along the coast. Swift Parrots have again been seen flying overhead calling at Ocean Grove, one of our few local areas that this critically endangered species utilises more predictably.
Another of the local species displaying obvious movement across our region is the Grey Fantail. The records this month show some large gatherings at some locations and some may be a mix of the mainland subspecies alisterii and the Tasmanian subspecies abiscapa. The fascinating inquisitive behaviour and squeaky call make them fairly easy to detect and it is fascinating how a large group of dozens of them can be seen in a single location one day and then gone the next, moving on to another site. Last month we read about the wonders of the Geelong Botanic Gardens and the autumn birds found there. Rose Robins have still been seen there early in the month though now are seemingly gone while, up to 4, Pink Robins are currently there.
Unobtrusive Mistletoebirds have been seen in fruiting Wire-leaf Mistletoe in suburban streets perhaps once again indicative of, at least, local movement. Their tiny size meaning their presence is often only given away by the characteristic sharp single-note or the sweet little short “tootsie-cheer” calls. An Olive Whistler in the edge of the Otway Ranges, south of Colac, was a nice morning surprise. Flame Robins have well and truly made an arrival in the paddocks and parks of our area with small groups in many locations. Hopefully larger flocks will be noted soon. A large noisy flock of 20 Dusky Woodswallows at Ocean Grove Nature Reserve was an interesting April record, suggesting birds gathering or resting during migration. A sight on the Lake Connewarre floodplain of at least 310 Blue-winged Parrots heading to roost, made up of smaller flocks arriving sequentially before dark was exciting. Forest Raven records continue to be submitted from the plains well to the west of Geelong and to the north of the Otway Ranges reminding us that this species is present in these areas so a careful ear should be kept for corvids with a bass baritone call rather than the expected mid-range calls of Little Ravens.
Another feature of local conditions noted over recent weeks has been the smoke haze sitting over the district as farmers burn off crop stubble. A wonderful array of raptors making the most of this food resource has been submitted, as small birds, mammals and reptiles scramble for cover or are caught unaware of the fire and make for easy pickings. Black Falcons, generally scarce, have rewarded alert observers this month, in the vicinity of these burn-offs with several descriptive records coming in from the drier western plains as well as a bird in Lara. Continuing the raptor theme a Spotted Harrier was a beautiful sight at Hesse and several Peregrine Falcon records illustrate the excitement of seeing this powerful hunter. White morph Grey Goshawks have been well represented in recent weeks perhaps illustrating the dispersal of birds to more open habitats over autumn from the more-dense forest habitat of spring and summer. Though we must hasten to add that a pair of these glorious birds in a territorial display in prime breeding habitat on the Curdies River, north of Timboon, held the undivided attention of two mesmerised observers for many minutes. A Powerful Owl record at Bellbrae was a wonderful observation, heard calling in the early evening.
Wetland records have been keenly received with excellent observations of several unusual duck species with young – Blue-billed Ducks at Lake Struan, Musk Duck at Lake Elingamite, along with Australasian Grebes with very recently hatchlings in Eastern Park, Geelong all with young. Little Black Cormorants were giving every indication of feeding nestlings out on the remains of the old bombing target in Lake Gnarput during a recent survey. Cattle Egrets are now being seen and recorded in our district with small flocks of up to five birds being noted and a stunning record, in the last week of April, of 180 gathering at Lake Colac Bird Sanctuary. A very large flock of 620 Australian Pelicans in flight must have been quite a sight south-west of Cressy and a Buff-banded Rail in the Geelong Botanic Gardens has been enjoyed by many. A Kelp Gull at Breamlea was a great record of this rare local gull, with the careful observer noting the white tail, clarifying the slight build differentiating this species from the closely related and common Pacific Gull as this species, at this time of year, can have an all-white tail as the sub-terminal black band wears away. A Lewin’s Rail enticed birders at Lake Connewarre with its characteristic call and 5 Bar-tailed Godwits at Lake Victoria was unusual at this time of the year as were a duo of Double-banded Plovers at Pt Henry – a species seldom seen at this location in recent years.
The grasslands of the western plains hold many gems for the few who go looking and several records of juvenile Australasian Bushlarks were great observations indicating local breeding and a stubble burn-off caused some 17 Australasian Pipits to flush along with a similar number of Eurasian Skylarks. A small covey of five Brown Quail at Derrinallum was a surprise as they burst from the long grass beside ploughed farmland.