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 https://ebird.org/australia/species/whiter/ .

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. https://www.gfnc.org.au/observations/bird-observations

https://ebird.org/australia/map

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

… John Newman and Craig Morley

This month sees a fabulous variety of records scattered from suburban habitats to the wetlands, saltmarsh, woodlands and the, sometimes, bleak and very blustery coast. Sifting through the long list of June observations really highlights the wonderful birdlife to be seen in our small reserves, suburban parks, riverside corridors and gardens over winter.

As the cold winter weather really settles in to higher altitude, wetter parts of the Otway Ranges many birds move into milder areas where they have some protection from the severe cold and more food reserves exist. For birders and nature lovers who are prepared to explore these local habitats there is much to be seen.

Along the Barwon River in town is the wonderful riverside reserve that stretches for many kilometres and this corridor has well utilised by birds and birders alike this month. Adjoining the main riparian tracts are smaller reserves many of them rehabilitated by Friends groups and the likes and are now adding to useful habitat for our local suburban wildlife. Phoenix Reserve in Newtown has proven its value, in recent weeks, with high numbers of Spotted Pardalotes and Weebills foraging, presumably for lerp and scale. A Fan-tailed Cuckoo was seen there and a little upstream a glorious male Rose Robin was identified. Downstream, a brown Pink Robin was seen at the Breakwater in the same location another bird was seen last winter.

The coastal vegetation and adjoining reserves offer similar respite from the wintery higher altitudes and this month Crescent Honeyeaters at Ocean Grove and Jan Juc were excellent finds, reminding us that this is another species that will ‘wander’ in the cooler months and the shorter days. High numbers of Eastern Spinebills have moved into our parks and gardens including up to 10 together in Ocean Grove. One of the classic winter highlights for many birders is the arrival of the endearing Flame Robin on the Bellarine Peninsula and rural farmlands at lower altitudes, and this year many have now been sighted right across the Peninsula, Bellbrae, Wallington, Connewarre and further to the west at Wingeel and Barunah Park.

A Ninox owl in Ocean Grove Nature Reserve was positively identified as a Tasmanian migrating Morepork (Tasmanian) a relative of the Southern Boobook but considered a different species and related to New Zealand Morepork. Southern Boobooks have been heard regularly in various areas such as Balliang.

A flock of up to 37 Swift Parrots in flowering eucalypts has been thrilling many at the main entrance of the You Yangs. The elusive Southern Emuwren continues to be seen in lignum saltmarsh around Lake Connewarre and a group of eight, including 4 adult males, coming out to dry in the morning sun after heavy overnight rain held the attention of mesmerised observers. Black–chinned Honeyeaters, on private property at Maude, were an excellent sighting of another uncommon species in the Geelong region that is often localised and hard to find.

Winter always draws a few dedicated birders to the blustery coastal headlands and this month at Pt Addis a most enticing triad of Brown Skua, Northern Giant-Petrel and White-fronted Tern was seen.

Many records of raptors have been submitted this month including Little Eagle, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Swamp Harrier, Collared Sparrowhawk, Black Kite, Whistling Kite along with the falcons – Nankeen Kestrel, Australian Hobby, Brown Falcon (including a pair copulating in mid-June at Wallington) and last, but definitely least, Peregrine Falcon. In addition to these species several extras stand out. Black-shouldered Kites with dependent young have been seen in several locations including St Albans Park and Lake Connewarre reinforcing the point that this species has two peak laying periods one of which is autumn and the other in spring. It has also been fascinating to see, as the weeks have progressed, up to 11 young birds, ranging from dependent juveniles to less-dependent immatures, congregating along less than 200m of fence at Lake Connewarre. A white morph Grey Goshawk was seen at Inverleigh. It is always a huge thrill to come across this elegant and truly captivating hunter with all white plumage. White-bellied Sea-Eagles have also been seen in two locations, at Pt Henry where a perched immature was beautifully photographed and another observation at Ocean Grove, was an excellent find.

Black Swans have produced young cygnets in saltmarsh at Bancoora/Breamlea and Hooded Plovers have been seen on the beaches between Collendina and Pt Lonsdale in groups numbering up to 13 birds, again reminding us of the flocking of this iconic species in the non-breeding season. We hope desperately that they can have a productive breeding season in the months ahead.

Once more we thank the well over 40 keen and diligent observers who have added to the story of our Geelong region birds by adding their records of observation as highlights to the GFNC web-site https://www.gfnc.org.au/observations/bird-observations  and/or as complete lists or highlights to eBird Australia https://ebird.org/australia/home

And remember to log-in on each of these web-sites for your enjoyment, such as the ‘species maps’ or ‘search species’ options in eBird.

John Newman & Craig Morley

The many records submitted to the Club website this month really highlight the great variety of birds being seen by enthusiastic observers. We have certainly had some wild weather this month and some glorious sunny still days too and all conditions seem to bring about interesting sightings.

There are numerous interesting records from our woodlands and heathlands.

A Brush Bronzewing at Ocean Grove Nature Reserve was a great treat as we do not receive many records of this pigeon species on the Bellarine Peninsula.  Similarly a beautiful Pink Robin seen and photographed in the small woodland at Tait Point overlooking Lake Connewarre was delicately tinged pink. It is often so interesting to explore these small remnants and plantings and roadside corridors for their birdlife as often unexpected birds do pop up.

Flame Robins and Gang-gang Cockatoos are adding autumn colour to many sites around Geelong and by contrast two young European Goldfinches, lacking the typical red face, were seen in Highton.  Little Wattlebirds are rarely seen around Bacchus Marsh and have not established populations so an observation this month from that part of our reporting region was noteworthy. Similarly a high number of 30+ Singing Honeyeaters in Jan Juc was entertaining as they caught insects in the evening warmth.

Classic scarce dry woodland birds this month include two White-bellied Cuckooshrikes silently exploring the eucalypt canopy at Bannockburn, a small flock of Swift Parrots in flowering Eucalypts at the You Yangs and a Specked Warbler at Long Forest – a species still hanging on in low numbers in our region.

Club members have been exploring the saltmarsh around our lakes and coast this month and finding many fascinating birds. A total of 377 Blue-winged Parrots at Lake Connewarre was phenomenal and helped account for the complete lack of parrots in other sites. Hopefully it shows food reserves at that site are plentiful. Similarly an immature Spotted Harrier in saltmarsh at the same locality was a great record for this uncommon eye-catching raptor. Families of Black-shouldered Kites at Balliang and Wallington with rusty-toned juveniles are always a delight and are a reminder that some of our birds breed successfully well into autumn and winter when food sources are available. A point reinforced with the very recent observation, at Wallington, of courtship feeding and copulation of a pair of Brown Falcons.

We received several records of the much sought after Australasian Bittern from Hospital Swamp and reiterates the importance of the interconnecting wetlands of Reedy Lake, Hospital Swamp and Lake Connewarre for these secretive reed-frequenting waterbirds. White–fronted Terns are a winter highlight for birders prepared to brave the cold windy coast and so two birds at Pt Lonsdale was a great record.

Good flocks of 2500 and 400 Banded Stilts at Lake Murdeduke and Moolap Saltworks, respectively, were a welcome thrill after a long hiatus. A good flock of 43 Double-banded Plovers at Pt Impossible was a pleasing winter treat. A sole Latham’s Snipe at Lara in May was a really unexpected sighting with the entire population of these migratory shorebirds moving north in February-March to breed in northern Japan.

And in breaking news a Spangled Drongo hawking for insects mainly along the southern shore of Blue Waters lake at Ocean grove has caused a great deal of excitement! It was identified as a first year bird with dull brown eyes and retained juvenile feathers with pale spots, streaks and fringes. The species is a vagrant to our region with this bird turning up unexpectedly. Though it is fascinating to delve into the resources of eBird (remember to log-in) and set Explore Species map option https://ebird.org/australia/explore  to Spangled Drongo and adjust the date range to January and then May to see that this species does curiously wander south and westwards after breeding along the east coast from mid-north New South Wales. You should end up with something like these maps. Red icons are records from the last 4 weeks.

Sp Drongo maps

Once more we sincerely thank the numerous observers, who keenly and diligently record their observations and submit them to our web-site and/or directly to eBird as complete lists or incidentals.

https://ebird.org/australia/home

https://www.gfnc.org.au/observations/bird-observations

… John Newman & Craig Morley

Variety is certainly an apt descriptor for the records which have been logged this month on the GFNC observations website. These records cover many, if not all, of the habitats we expect to see in this varied landscape of ours from ocean beaches and wetlands to woodlands and grasslands. Bird enthusiasts are clearly enjoying getting out and taking note of what they see and of course taking the trouble to submit the records which allows this important information to enter the formal databases for the Geelong region including the Bellarine Peninsula and Surf Coast.

Autumn brings cooler and usually windy weather and heralds the start of ocean watching season and patrols for beach-cast birds. Over the months to come we hope to see plenty of records of our offshore pelagic birds and terns submitted but this month  a beach-cast White-faced Storm Petrel at Ocean Grove was the pick of these records.

Similarly, autumn is a well-studied and documented season for bird migration. Birds which breed at higher elevations in the forests and wet gullies of the Otway Ranges disperse over winter to areas with more moderate weather and more food resources. This accounts for the continued recording of Pink Robins, Rose Robins and Rufous Fantails in the Geelong Botanic Gardens. At least two Pink Robins have been reported, both ‘brown birds’ female or juvenile birds and probably several Rose Robins and Rufous Fantails based on individual plumage differences of the respective birds of each species. Flame Robins have begun to move into farm lands in Wallington and will hopefully be widespread over the coming weeks. Grey Fantails of the Tasmanian subspecies albiscapa have been seen in several locations including Batesford and Connewarre indicating the migration over Bass Strait has occurred for winter.  High numbers of Blue-winged Parrots have also arrived at Connewarre. Pacific Swifts overhead at Modewarre and Highton late in the afternoon is typical of windy conditions in late summer and early autumn and it pays to keep an eye on the skies in these conditions. Similarly White-throated Needletails, over Newtown and Pt Lonsdale, were a welcome sight for some keen observers. Singing Honeyeaters in Jan Juc were a treat and probably indicative of at least local movement of this species at this time of the year.  Other honeyeater species are on the move across our region for milder climes for winter. Keep an eye and ear out for White-naped Honeyeaters in coming weeks as they continue the pattern several weeks after the Yellow-faced Honeyeaters. A White-naped Honeyeater was noted recently heading across Lake Connewarre in a small flock of Yellow-faced Honeyeaters.

Perhaps the migratory woodland bird record of most importance for our area is the reassuring arrival of a small number of Swift Parrots back at Ocean Grove in the endemic Yellow Gums. This critically endangered bird is now the subject of a recovery plan as wild populations have plummeted to perhaps less than 1000 birds so having them locally in our unique woodland is a delight. Diamond Firetails at Long Forest, near Bacchus Marsh, was important as these birds seemingly continue to disappear from the Geelong region.

Blue-billed Ducks with chicks is an amazing record at Yarram Creek on the Bellarine Peninsula as breeding records are few here. A female Lewin’s Rail at Lake Victoria was a real thrill for the observers on the recent GFNC excursion as the species is notoriously difficult to see with cryptic habits of skulking in reed-beds. This record was a double treat at the same location with two Spotless Crakes, another sought –after secretive wetland bird.

The Little Egret colony at Queenscliff continues to support post-breeding juveniles and, at the same site, there were at least 2 juvenile Nankeen Night-Herons in or near nests until recently. Over 800 Magpie Geese in Lara utilising cropping paddocks was a sight to behold.

Two Black-tailed Godwits in breeding plumage at Lake Connewarre was a rare treat, as was the Sanderling on 28 March, late in ‘summer’ season. A flock of ten Sanderling at Blue Rocks was a very good find with some showing breeding plumage. This is an unusually high number for, our local shores, but not exceptional with a flock of 60 recorded in April 2020, a flock of 23 in October 2013 and a flock of 40 in March 2012 recorded in the Black Rock/Blue Rocks area. As species such as Sanderlings and godwits leave us to migrate north to Siberia to breed, the Double-banded Plover leaves New Zealand and heads for Australia arriving on our ocean beaches and estuaries to spend a more moderate winter feeding before heading back to the alpine areas of  New Zealand next summer to breed.

Once more we sincerely thank the well over 50 observers, when we include GFNC excursion and Landcare Bird Survey participants, who keenly and diligently record their observations and submit them to our web-site and/or directly to eBird as complete lists.

https://www.gfnc.org.au/observations/bird-observations

https://ebird.org/australia/home

Please remember to log-in to eBird to make the most of facilities such as more ways to explore: ‘species maps’ https://ebird.org/australia/map and then add the species name and refine the period of time you wish to investigate: such as current year or a sequence of months over a period such as 2010-2020.

… John Newman and Craig Morley

The Geelong Botanic Gardens https://ebird.org/australia/hotspot/L3637443 is a birding gem right on the doorstop of the Geelong CBD. Situated in Eastern Park, though sometimes overlooked, it is well recognised for its regular list of seasonal visitors  https://ebird.org/australia/hotspot/L2549826

Late summer, autumn and winter are especially good times to enjoy the ‘passing parade’ as birds leave their spring-summer breeding grounds in the Otway Ranges and foothills. It is a joy to hear of the first Rufous Fantail arriving at this very site and this year, as expected, it was late February when the first birds of the season appeared. Numerous observers enjoyed the gorgeous rufous, black and white plumage of these endearing birds. Not long after, the next sought after species appeared in the form of Rose Robins. Several birds including a beautifully plumaged male, sporting its deep rosy- pink chest, have been seen and photographed over recent few weeks.

Grey Fantails and several Golden Whistlers have also appeared in recent weeks. Fluctuating numbers of Grey Fantails recorded on consecutive visits would strongly indicate that the fortunate observers are bearing witness to a passage migration. A few of these migratory birds may remain in the Gardens over winter – so it’s worth keeping an eye on this area over coming weeks and months. The Bassian Thrush, though a moderately common species in the Otway Ranges, is always a treat to see on seasonal dispersion, and this was certainly the case with an individual foraging in the leaf litter, freezing and blending into the background in the Geelong Botanic Gardens.

A sub-adult Black-faced Monarch at Avalon was an amazing local record. A vagrant to the Geelong region the species is usually a spring-summer migrant to the wetter forests east of Melbourne rarely coming this far west.

It was a delight to see a single Banded Stilt recently at Lake Victoria. We are still waiting on a large influx of these enigmatic Australian shorebirds after a few tantalising records earlier this year. Presumably suitable saline wetlands remain in inland Australia supporting the highly nomadic species. A few Double-banded Plovers were an unusual find at the Spring Creek Estuary and a beach-cast Sooty Shearwater, in good condition washed up at Ocean Grove, was an important find of rare species to our region.

Our much revered breeding colony of Little Egrets at Queenscliff, the only known breeding colony of this beautiful small egret in Victoria, has done well this summer with at least 23 juveniles observed and recorded. Nankeen Night Herons, on the Queenscliff mudflats, were also a welcome and unexpected sight especially with twenty-six of them counted.

Finally we love our roaming flocks of Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos in the Geelong region and there have been numerous records of small flocks of up to 30 birds recorded in recent weeks. You can peruse the seasonal movement of these birds in our region, and beyond, by following this link https://ebird.org/australia/explore log-in to eBird and explore “species maps” and add Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo in the search, then limit the date range to, for example, January and then progress, one at a time, through the months. You can follow a similar process to generate maps for Rose Robin.

And before we finish for March some notes about the bird records on the GFNC web-site.

  • Bird records prior to January 2017 have now been deleted from the web-site and archived. All these records have been submitted to eBird and have been used to produce the Geelong Bird Report covering those years. And these can be downloaded as a PDF from the publications of the GFNC web-site https://www.gfnc.org.au/about-us/publications
  • All 2017-2020 records remain for viewing on the GFNC web-site.
  • All 2013-2020 observations from GFNC web-site have been submitted to eBird, as well as many tens of 1000s of observations submitted directly to eBird by GFNC members and other observers.


 

John Newman & Craig Morley

The previous two summaries of bird observations have highlighted the wonderful conditions this summer with good water levels and moderate temperatures. It was hoped that the outcome of these conditions would be an excellent season of successful breeding and many of bird sightings submitted in February clearly demonstrate this fact – many juvenile birds have been recorded and  many are still being fed by attentive parents.

The wetlands around the Geelong region have been largely showing excellent conditions so it is very pleasing to record Australasian Bittern juveniles at Reedy Lake and Brolga families with one and two juveniles in the lower Barwon wetlands.  Reedy Lake remains the local stronghold of this uncommon and cryptic bittern and careful steps are being taken to manage the water levels to accommodate this species and circumstantial evidence, with juveniles in the Reedy Lake system, would strongly suggest local breeding. The small colony of breeding Australasian Darter at so readily viewed from Princes Bridge over the Barwon River has again had successful active nests with young. Black-fronted Dotterels at Avalon with juveniles was an interesting breeding record and the unique, by Victorian standards, Little Egret colony at Queenscliff thankfully has reared at least 11 young https://ebird.org/australia/hotspot/L5250994 It is critically important that we continue to monitor this colony and count the juveniles. Several breeding pairs of Nankeen Night-Herons have produced juveniles at the site. Collared Sparrowhawk juveniles in pines at Birregurra Golf Course were a noisy duo, as were the two at the decommissioned Barwon Water Swan Bay reservoir site, and a juvenile Rufous Fantail in the Otway Ranges suggests local breeding. Similarly juvenile Forest Ravens at the same location help build a picture of typical Otway forest birds successfully having bred this spring/summer. Silvereyes, White-throated Treecreepers and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters are species regularly recorded in the Geelong region and it is important to have documentation of active nesting and young birds this season from several areas in our region. Speaking of breeding by all accounts Lake Lorne, at Drysdale has been ‘humming along’ for many months and a visit to this significant regional wetland https://ebird.org/australia/hotspot/L1430767 never disappoints patient and careful observers! It will be interesting and important to keep an eye on the water levels as time goes on after the major roadworks and the increase of run-off from hard surfaces.

A bird seen sporting breeding plumage alone does not necessarily indicate active breeding but might alert observers to potential nesting. Great Cormorants in their breeding finery, with white blazes on their flanks, at Ocean Grove and Reedy Lake and a similarly adorned Great Egret at Reedy Lake were  worthy of comment and delight. As were several Little Egrets at Moolap/Pt Henry and Lake Victoria with nuptial plumes flowing in the wind – is there another colony or two of these notable birds in our region?

Summer is a wonderful time to enjoy shorebirds in the many coastal and wetland sites for which the Bellarine Peninsula is famous. Banded Stilt records have finally begun to trickle in after a long hiatus, presumably due to good conditions at some of Australians inland salt lakes. A record of thirty-one birds in Torquay was a great record. A sole early returned Double-banded Plover at Moolap Saltworks seen during the summer wader count was noteworthy and eleven Eastern Curlews on the Barwon Heads estuary very pleasing for this critically endangered migratory shorebird. A Lesser Sand-Plover at Mud Islands was a wonderful record- these small sand-frequenting birds are very rarely seen on our coast now. Similarly the vagrant Hudsonian Godwit seen at both Sand Island (restricted access) and Mud Islands this month adds to other recent local records of this misplaced North American shorebird. Pacific Golden Plovers on the Barwon coast show this beautiful shorebird is just managing to hang on here and on this occasion was accompanied by a Common Sandpiper. And a record of at least 6000 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers wheeling about over the ‘newly gazetted’ Sparrovale wetlands https://ebird.org/australia/hotspot/L9792702 was a significant number, in the true sense of the word, and an exhilarating site for the keen shorebird surveyors!

One of the more extraordinary records submitted this month was of an Australasian Swamphen apparently pulling sugary lerps off eucalypt leaves, perched in the tree above the water at Blue Waters Lake in Ocean Grove – an excellent example of an observer taking the time to look at a common local bird and learning something completely new.

Once more we sincerely thank the more than forty five observers who so keenly observe AND record the fascinating birds of this region. Please keep them coming to the GFNC web-site or directly to eBird Australia.

John Newman & Craig Morley

It is quite remarkable, looking through the extensive list of bird records submitted since the last summary was written, to consider the wonderful variety of sightings. It does encompass two months of records rather than the usual single month but it is truly outstanding what has been seen in our district over the Christmas weeks. Good water levels have been maintained in many wetlands and had ample grass-growth in our grasslands and verdant growth in our forests with a corresponding surge in insect and blossom production so birds have been very prominent.

Summer is a wonderful time for migratory shorebirds and terns and this year has been particularly rich in species recorded locally as the GFNC observations page and eBird records attest. The standout shorebird has been the recently discovered vagrant Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Lake Modewarre. Making the most of the extensive muddy lake shore and grassy margins, this eye-catching buffy-apricot shorebird would usually spend its life migrating between the North American tundra, where the species breeds, and short-grassed open habitat in South America. This bird has been off course and ended up west of Geelong. We last had this species in our region, in January 2017, at Lake Murdeduke. It is sharing the same lake edge with a rare Pectoral Sandpiper and up to 1200 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. Three Wood Sandpipers have been utilising a drainage pond in an area ear-marked by developers as sporting fields, amidst a new peri-urban development at Mt Duneed. This is not far from Reedy Lake which is the more usual habitat for this uncommon spring-summer migrant to our region. A Common Sandpiper and Sanderling and Pacific Golden Plovers, in low number, have all been seen using the rock platforms at Blue Rocks and the associated sandy beach. All are hard to come by in the Geelong District these days. Black- tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers at Lake Connewarre have also been seen. It’s an impressive Geelong list along with the more usual resident and migratory birds. And we should not forget a breeding record of Red-kneed Dotterel at Avalon Saltworks during a recent survey. Latham’s Snipe continues to be reported in good numbers locally this season reflecting our good conditions and a lot of observer effort.

Our tern list is similarly impressive. Common Terns are, despite the name, uncommon in our region and so two separate records, at Avalon and Blue Rocks, are tremendous. It’s always a treat to see Gull-billed Terns, so recent records from lakes Modewarre and Murdeduke were noteworthy and Whiskered Terns and a solitary White-winged Black Tern are using the Hospital Swamp-Sparrovale complex. There are also many of the former species at Reedy Lake. It was a huge thrill to see a Caspian Tern wheeling about over the Barwon River at Balyang Sanctuary on the recent club excursion.  Little Terns breeding at Avalon Saltworks and Fairy Terns at Point Henry were a thrill to see and two Arctic Jaegers harassing two Galahs, at Hospital Swamp, was an astounding record for this master of the open ocean.

A Powerful Owl calling at Distillery Creek was a joy to hear deep into the night and a Spotted Harrier at Reedy Lake, in fresh juvenile plumage, was a great record. We have many dozens of raptor records covering eleven or more species over this period. Stubble Quail records are numerous and well dispersed and a record of two Brown Quail a Balliang is noteworthy. Our good freshwater wetland conditions have given rise to records of Spotless Crake and Lewin’s Rail at Hospital Swamp and Baillon’s Crake at Reedy Lake. 

The remnant Grey Box forest at Eynesbury continue to provide habitat for a suite of  outstanding dry country birds that we rarely see within our recording area – Diamond Firetail, Zebra Finch, Southern Whiteface and the very special Black-eared Cuckoo.

Little Lorikeets in Ocean Grove and also at Serendip, are pleasing and an Azure Kingfisher fishing at Lake Elizabeth, near Forrest, completed a satisfying suite of wet forest spring birds for the fortunate observer. And a Chestnut-rumped Heathwren, in the Anglesea Heath, was a beautiful bird to behold.

Restless Flycatcher breeding records are few, so a pair feeding a fledgling at Whoorel was a great record. Similarly Crested Shrike-tit breeding records are scarce with their devilishly hidden nests high in the canopy. Three adults with two immatures ‘learning the ropes’ at Bacchus Marsh and two fledged juveniles repeatedly begging and fed by an adult male and female at Teesdale Grassy Woodlands were exciting for the observers. The Highton Pacific Koel is still keeping the neighbours awake. It would be wonderful to determine more certainly how many birds are present. This could be done quite easily if each observer recorded the time and place when one is heard calling. It is also important to note that the male of the species also utters the wurra wurra call. The call unique to the female of the species is best described, in The Australian Bird Guide,  as ‘a series of shrill brassy shrieks keek-keek-keek.’   

Last but definitely not least we must mention a record of a Gould’s Petrel https://ebird.org/checklist/S78638138 along the west end of the Ocean Grove beach. This is an extraordinary record of a small, lightly built Pterodroma petrel https://ebird.org/species/goupet1 that is normally found in pelagic waters beyond the continental shelf mostly off the eastern seaboard from southern Queensland to South Australia from November to April. Sincere thanks go to this keen and prepared observer along with the more than 40 keen observers who submitted records over December and January https://www.gfnc.org.au/observations/bird-observations and directly to eBird https://ebird.org/australia/explore

… John Newman and Craig Morley

It is with great excitement that the summary for this month’s bird records is written for the detailed list of over 100 records documents an astounding variety of our regional birds including breeding records we rarely hear of and outstanding migratory birds that have appeared locally. We urge you to spend some time savouring the detailed records available via the link https://www.gfnc.org.au/observations/bird-observations and also log-in to eBird and use the explore species or species map options https://ebird.org/australia/explore

The two Australian bittern species found in our region would rate high on a birder’s list of species to find and this month the same observer has recorded each – Australasian Bittern at Point Richards, a new location and Australian Little Bittern at Hospital Swamp in a similar location to records over last spring-summer. Each species utters a characteristic call. A good time to listen is at dusk and the following few hours. We are reminded by a very experienced and perceptive observer that the Australasian Swamphen can produce a guttural call at least slightly reminiscent of what one might expect from the Australasian Bittern. If observers consider they have heard an Australasian Bittern booming we would encourage them to check online and in our experience if you consider you are listening to an Australasian Bittern you should be able to notice the indrawn breath before the ‘boom’ and also appreciate the regularity of the booming. It is also worth noting that the call(s) of the Australian Little Bittern tend to be low volume, with a frog-like quality, and might easily be overlooked so please keep an ear out and be prepared. Please check these online links we’re sure you’ll find others.

Australasian Bittern

http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/australasian-bittern

Australian Little Bittern

https://ebird.org/media/catalog?taxonCode=bkbbit1&regionCode=&mediaType=a

N.B. depending on the eBird portal you are using the name of this species may come up as Black-backed Bittern - when you are  logged in/using the eBird Australia portal, the name will come up as Australian Little Bittern, as it should’

An Australian Spotted Crake detected by call in a remote ephemeral wetland at Barunah Plains was a good find. Good winter and spring rains have meant these wetlands have provided enough habitat and food reserves to support successful breeding for numerous species. It’s always pleasing to have local Brolga breeding records and it’s especially heartening, and rewarding, to have several active nests beyond the Lower Barwon system in the agricultural areas to the west of Geelong. Several records of Gull-billed Terns, again in recent weeks, around the Corangamite lakes add a thrill as we have few records of this species in most years. There are very few records of breeding White-necked Heron in our region so some active nests in a wetland near Winchelsea was a most rewarding and exciting observation. A single bird of the same species flying across the Barwon Estuary was noted as most unusual in this location and habitat.

Birds of prey create a lot of interest and it’s exciting to note several nests of Wedge-tailed Eagles have been carefully observed, at a distance, to the west of Geelong and a thorough, patient and very cautious observer has been rewarded with finding White-bellied Sea-Eagles nesting on the Bellarine Peninsula. A recent sighting of a Square-tailed Kite in the Brisbane Ranges is exciting and raises the question, is it one of  the birds that was at Bannockburn or Ocean Grove in late September or a third member of the species visiting our region.

There continue to be excellent records of many of our spring migratory species.  A Black-eared Cuckoo at Eynesbury was a very good find and, writing of our less frequently recorded migratory cuckoo species, there have been several records of at least one vociferous Brush Cuckoo in the Anglesea-Aireys Inlet area. The former is a bird of dry woodlands whilst the later tends to be a species we associate with wetter forests, it is worth noting that we have no confirmed breeding records of Brush Cuckoo and few unequivocal breeding records of Black-eared Cuckoo in the Geelong region! So please be on the look-out as you venture out over the coming weeks and months – you might just add some very important information to our knowledge of the birds of the Geelong region! The now regular Pacific Koels have turned up true to form in Highton delighting, at least some, residents with early morning calls which, though clear and penetrating, can be very hard to locate. And keep a listening ear out for the lower volume more understated ‘wukka wukka, wukka wukka’ call of the species!

Satin Flycatchers have arrived in our region with at least 5 very vocal birds in close proximity in the Anglesea heath, hopefully with breeding intent.  Little Lorikeet records are not particularly frequent in the Geelong region so a flock of six feeding in Ocean Grove was a thrill.

The agricultural lands to the west of Geelong do not get as much bird-watching attention as many other areas around our region – refer the maps of seasonal survey coverage on page 5 of the Geelong Bird Report 2013-2016. Over recent weeks there has been a great array of grassland species with evidence of likely breeding – Brown Songlark, Australasian Bushlark and also several Australian Reed Warblers calling frequently from an inundated Canola crop.  An unusual record of a Singing Honeyeater, found in a shelterbelt at Barunah Park, also reminds us that it is well worthwhile spending time, observing carefully and patiently, on the track less travelled.

It was with great success and satisfaction that one of our members rescued a Tawny Frogmouth chick that had come out of the nest in Jan Juc. With some simple ingenuity it was returned to a makeshift nest under the watchful eye of its parents who continued to successfully fledge several weeks later. A lovely record of Southern Boobook in suburban Geelong also alerts us to keep an ear out after dark especially on these warmer evenings.

With sincere thanks to the keen observers who submit their highlight records to the GFNC web-site or as complete lists to eBird Australia.

Craig Morley for the GFNC Bird Group

It was great to see well over 20 GFNC members getting involved in another eBird Global Big Day. On a day that threatened considerable morning rain, though the wind was rather chilly, this did not eventuate and afforded great opportunities for observers to head out to many and varied habitats and locations around the Geelong region. Avalon, Corio Bay, Batesford, Bannockburn, Reedy Lake, Pt Henry, Ocean Grove Nature Reserve, Queenscliff, Anglesea Heath, the Otway Ranges, the You Yangs, the Brisbane Ranges and many quiet rural roads in between turned up many wonderful species. Some highlights, amongst many, were Brush Cuckoo, Pink Robin, Brolga, Rufous Songlark, Brown Songlark and White-winged Choughs with nestlings in a tree along a quiet rural road north west of Bannockburn. You’re sure to find more highlights if you follow the links below.

An extra GFNC Bird Group zoom meeting was held at 7:30pm on Thursday 5 November when a keen group had an informal chat about their various experiences on the day. You may also like to follow these links to the eBird Global Bird Day in our Geelong region …

Greater Geelong: https://ebird.org/region/AU-VIC-GGE?yr=BIGDAY_2020b&m=&rank=lrec

Surf Coast: https://ebird.org/region/AU-VIC-SUR?yr=BIGDAY_2020b&m=&rank=lrec

Golden Plains: https://ebird.org/region/AU-VIC-GOL?yr=BIGDAY_2020b&m=&rank=lrec

Moorabool: https://ebird.org/region/AU-VIC-MOO?yr=BIGDAY_2020b&m=&rank=lrec

Colac-Otway: https://ebird.org/region/AU-VIC-COL?yr=BIGDAY_2020b&m=&sortBy=spp

Queenscliffe: https://ebird.org/region/AU-VIC-QUE?yr=BIGDAY_2020b&m=&rank=lrec

Victoria: https://ebird.org/region/AU-VIC?yr=BIGDAY_2020b&m=&rank=lrec

… Craig Morley and John Newman

Once more there are many fascinating highlights in recent weeks.

Let’s start with shorebirds. Several observers were delighted to find a Pectoral Sandpiper at Avalon. A bonus was a Great Knot, sadly a species that is far less numerous, than was once the case, in our region and worldwide. There was a handful of Red Knots that gave a satisfying comparison. Some observers also found a Sanderling at this site!

Staying with birds that require wetlands, but changing the focus somewhat, it is fascinating to see myriad ibis across the skies of the Bellarine Peninsula and to the west and north-west. The vast majority of these birds are Straw-necked Ibis with a smattering of Australian White Ibis heading out from breeding colonies to forage for invertebrates in pastures. It is exciting to have confirmation of breeding of both species at Reedy Lake - hundreds of the former and tens of the latter. And of course both species will be breeding at Mud Islands, in the southern end of Port Phillip where there will be tens of thousands of Straw-necked Ibis and thousands of Australian White Ibis each tending nestlings, judging by the increase in ‘air traffic’ in recent weeks.

Continuing with breeding waterbirds, it is exciting to have had a record of two adult Brolgas with two young at foot in Reedy Lake and confirmation of breeding of, at least, a low number of Magpie Geese at Reedy Lake. And Little Egrets are back in attendance at ‘their tree’ in Queenscliff. Up to 14 were present on 21 September and none on a subsequent visit on 24 September but they now seem to have settled in with regular records of 12 or more at the site. This is a very important and significant site as, to the best of our knowledge, it is the only breeding site for the species in Victoria – allowing of course for the possibility of some breeding along the billabongs and backwaters of the Murray River in the north-east. This Queenscliff colony has been active since at least 2016/2017. There are also Nankeen Night-Herons breeding in nearby trees.

It’s always exciting to note Banded Stilts in our region, with recent records of 200-400 from Avalon, though we should note the massive flock of 40 000, that kept observers mesmerised at Lake Murdeduke in September, has moved on. A truly enigmatic and astonishing species!

Two observers were mesmerised, for a different reason, as they marvelled at a prey transfer from male to female Peregrine Falcon at Point Addis. The Square-tailed Kite seems to have departed from the Ocean Grove Nature Reserve with a useful comment by an observer on 27 September that the bird was seen flying off to the north-west. As was commented on in these notes last month there was a second bird at Bannockburn on 26 September and there have been occasional  more recent records of the species, in that area, so it will be fascinating to see what happens in coming months.

Two Rainbow Bee-eaters at Indented Head on 13 October, perching in a she oak and hawking out and back for flying insects was an amazing record and surely astonished the keen observer! Usually a species recorded to the west and north-west of Geelong and occasionally the south, with rare ‘flyover’ records for suburban and peri-urban Geelong and there are very few records on the Bellarine Peninsula.

Finishing off with observations from the eastern end of the Bellarine Peninsula an observer was fascinated to observe and record the flights, on separate occasions of two White-fronted Chats, two Magpie-larks, several Galahs and Australian Magpies across Swan Bay from east to west, a distance of at least 2.5km across open water. In the case of the Galahs it was at least 3 km as they made land-fall at Swan Bay jetty – not a direct route from shoreline to shoreline! As someone once said, ‘we should never stop learning!” And making mention of continuing to learn, if you’re looking out over Swan Bay, or for that matter anywhere along our coastline including Port Phillip and Corio Bay, please keep an eye out for small terns: Fairy Terns and Little Terns of the genus Sternula. A large distant flock of at least 110 small terns, most probably the majority of which were Fairy Terns, was observed foraging around and loafing on a sand-bar in Swan Bay at low tide in late September. https://ebird.org/australia/checklist/S73859980 and https://ebird.org/australia/checklist/S73861979

We still have so much to learn about the numbers and movements of Sternula in our region so please keep an eye out over coming months and report what you observe either to the GFNC web-site or eBird.

We have recently re-jigged the Bird News section of our GFNC web-site posting the monthly bird notes from December 2017 onwards at https://www.gfnc.org.au/news/bird-news

Thanks again to the keen observers, who, in the last month have so willingly and keenly submitted their observations to the GFNC web-site https://www.gfnc.org.au/observations/bird-observations and directly, as complete lists or incidentals, to eBird https://ebird.org/australia/home and if you’d like to explore and search Species maps – remember to log in to eBird.

… John Newman and Craig Morley

There is some spring excitement in the air as days become noticeably longer and a little warmth is appearing. Birdlife seems to be exploding on the Bellarine Peninsula inextricably linked to the increasing numbers of flowers blooming and in turn insect numbers. It is a great time to be birding around Geelong.

Looking through the September bird records submitted over late August and September, it is interesting to note that while we are receiving good numbers of records of Australian Magpies breeding, there are records of flocks of at least 30, presumably non-breeding, birds.  These are important records to continue submitting, easily overlooked as ‘just magpies’. It has been a little easier to get into the forest at night in recent weeks with more moderate temperatures but with darkness falling at a reasonably early hour. Observers were repaid for their efforts with calling Australian Owlet-nightjars at Ironbark Basin and a Powerful Owl at Gum Flat.

There have been numerous records submitted again this month of Black-shouldered Kites, many juvenile birds, showing that when conditions are good they will breed over autumn and winter and utilise many locations. As with flocking Australian Magpies, it is always very interesting to note when Black-shouldered Kites are not present in our region, as happens periodically, so please keep the records coming in whenever you come across these wonderful birds of prey.

Cape Barren Geese south of Serendip Sanctuary, at Lara, are always of interest and watching and recording the range of these local birds over time is worthy of observer effort. Cattle Egrets in breeding plumage in Corio were a treat and several other small local flocks during September similarly satisfying. There appear to have been significantly smaller flocks this year compared to high numbers heading up towards 100 birds in recent years. So please keep your eyes out and submit those records.

Anglesea Heath is one of the true ecological gems of Victoria and spring here is a treasure trove of flora and flora with hard-to-find bird species being more vocal and often singing from exposed perches. Chestnut-rumped Heath-wrens and Olive Whistlers are several of these species seen here during September as well as many cuckoos and Olive-backed Oriole. The September bird records highlight the return of expected spring migrants – Fairy Martins, Dusky Woodswallows and a trickle of White-naped Honeyeaters and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters back to the wetter foothills and taller forests after a winter somewhere to our north.

Migratory shorebirds are being seen again – Latham’s Snipe at a few locations, with a significant number of 49 at Lake Ayrey, a Sanderling at Blue Rocks and a Great Knot at Lorne are the highlights amongst the international visitors but we must mention a flock of 40,000 Banded Stilts which greeted two keen and delighted observers who were at Lake Murdeduke to test water quality. It is certainly agreeable to these magnificent endemic Australian shorebirds! And the Great Knot was sharing the rock platform, at Lorne, with a regional important group of 11 Sooty Oystercatchers.

Spring is a story of breeding for many species and September records around Geelong have many wonderful observations of this. Little Wattlebirds with fledglings at Ocean Grove is about as far to the east as our breeding records go and a Grey Fantail building its exquisite wine-glass nest, near Point Lonsdale, captivated the observer. Some members of this species still appears to be moving about after a winter where at least some of the population have moved to different locations and some Tasmania bird of the albiscapa subspecies have crossed Bass Strait to winter here.

It is with great excitement that two Square-tailed Kites, a locally rare species, have been sighted at Bannockburn and Ocean Grove during September. Photos of the birds and sightings on the same day clearly indicate there are at least two of these evocative birds of prey currently in our region.

Ocean Grove Nature Reserve: https://ebird.org/australia/checklist/S74060302

Bannockburn Reserve: https://ebird.org/australia/checklist/S74516680

They can range over a wide area as they search the treetops to take unsuspecting nestlings. Ravens, Currawongs, Magpies and larger honeyeaters give the kite no rest so tune in to cacophony of these species and you might find ‘your own’ Square-tailed Kite in another part of our region!

Also at Ocean Grove, critically endangered Swift Parrots continue to be seen, in low numbers, prior to their return to Tasmania to look for suitable forest in which to breed.

Good detective work at Bannockburn allowed observers to notice two birds making the tell-tale platelets, small circular areas of cleared ground indicative of Painted Buttonquail foraging where they rotate on the spot clearing away leaf litter to expose food.  Also out in the drier plains a huge flock of 250 Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoos was most noteworthy in the Cargerie district.

We have recently re-jigged the Bird News section of our GFNC web-site and intend to post these monthly bird notes from December 2017 onwards at https://www.gfnc.org.au/news/bird-news

Thanks again to the keen observers, almost 60 in the last month and too numerous to mention, who so willingly and keenly submit their observations to the GFNC web-site https://www.gfnc.org.au/observations/bird-observations and directly, as complete lists or incidentals, to eBird https://ebird.org/australia/home and if you’d like to explore and search Species maps – remember to log in to eBird.