… John Newman and Craig Morley

Whilst the last few days of this observation period have been marked by, at times, heavy rain and very cold winds, we have actually experienced a lot of sunshine over the past month with some lovely conditions for birdwatching, traveling short distances during the re-instatement of  COVID-19 stage III restrictions.  The extensive list of bird records submitted has certainly begun to show the approach of spring-like conditions with breeding behaviour and some completed breeding efforts documented.

Over many years the Australian Hobby has held special place for members of the club and the past few years have continued to provide for some very interesting urban Australian Hobby observations to be recorded right in the centre of commercial Geelong.  We have been thrilled by records of phenomenal hunting amongst traffic on some of our major streets. A master of surprise attack and acrobatic flight, it was House Sparrows being hunted while they sought a winter roost. And a successful Australian Hobby nest was located atop a telecommunications tower in the heart of Geelong where young successfully fledged last season. Recent aerial displays involving, sometimes agitated, on one occasion four Hobbies and also some Pied Currawongs over this tower, are likely indications of breeding at this site once more. There are also active territories of Australian Hobbies in North Geelong and East Geelong, and elsewhere, so keep your eyes and ears open and be aware that you might just witness one of these feathered gems as a male streaks by taking prey to the female or a resident female ejects an ‘intruding’ female from a nest area. So be ready, and aware, you just never know what you might observe, and discover, if you keep watching a little bit longer!

The Geelong Bird Report 2013-2016 shows Black-shouldered Kites do regularly nest through autumn and into winter and so it is with interest that numerous juveniles have been seen across our region this month indicating successful breeding. The juvenile Black-shouldered Kite plumage is most distinctive and characteristic with tan-coloured feathering across the back of the neck and chest. Juveniles have been observed at Limeburners Lagoon and Beeac, for instance, practising their flying skills with watchful parents nearby.

Despite the sunnier days we are still seeing some of our winter birds persisting across the Geelong area and a nice collection of robins have been highlighted this month. Flame Robins are still being seen, in Charlemont and Moolap, no doubt soon to head back to the wetter Otway Ranges and similar places for breeding.  Pink and Rose Robins are often seen in the Geelong Botanic Gardens in Autumn for a few weeks after dispersing from breeding areas in the cool wet gullies of the Otway Ranges. It is with much interest that two ‘brown’ Pink Robins and a Rose Robin are being seen regularly in these beautiful Gardens right on the edge of town.

Another highlight of the August recording period is the return of Latham’s Snipe with a bird seen at Lara in early August and again a week later. As we go to publication one has been observed at Lake Colac Bird Sanctuary, where up to 60 were observed last season. These migratory shorebirds utilise freshwater and slightly brackish grassy wetlands and inhabit many sites across the Geelong region including the Bellarine Peninsula. The timing of the return from their breeding grounds in Japan can be variable with dates from early August through to mid-September. They are exquisitely camouflaged and are often only detected when they flush from vegetation and rapidly fly high and quickly dive to ground again.

Thank you to all the observers who keenly observe and submit their observations to the GFNC web-site or directly as incidental or complete lists to eBird. Please do look through the list of records https://www.gfnc.org.au/observations/bird-observations submitted this month as it is extremely varied, interesting and represents considerable effort by the many passionate birders across Geelong region. You can also go to eBird Australia (and log-in) and use the explore species maps function https://ebird.org/australia/map  and narrow down the date range to a particular year or month and zoom in on our region and learn more. And remember you can download pdf versions of Geelong Bird Reports from 2009 onwards at https://www.gfnc.org.au/about-us/publications

With sincere thanks, once more, to the keen and dedicated observers, and recorders, of our birds.

…John Newman and Craig Morley

This winter month of July has had a good number of sunny, still days with cold frosty mornings and from the bird records submitted this month it would seem that birders have been out and about enjoying the many interesting bird appearances.  Winter can be considered a less engaging time for birds than the other seasons but there’s always something to look at and enjoy there is much on offer to read via the link to this month’s comprehensive list https://www.gfnc.org.au/observations/bird-observations and of course you can add incidental and complete lists to eBird Australia: https://ebird.org/australia/region/AU-VIC-GGE?yr=all&m=&rank=mrec&sortBy=cl

Upon reading the very varied records submitted there were several records of bird breeding and also interesting appearances that warranted further consideration.

Black Swans this month have been recorded with 6 recently fledged young at Breamlea in saltmarsh and at Jerringot, Belmont Common with 4 cygnets in freshwater.  The Geelong Bird Report (GBR) notes the species as a common, breeding resident and widespread on a variety of wetlands and sheltered marine waters. And the 2013-2016 edition notes regular records of Black Swans with cygnets in almost every month of the year with occupied nests from May to December. The characteristic appearance of cygnets, still grey, downy and flightless, is an excellent guide to local breeding. September to January appear to be the peak months. So July nests at Breamlea and Belmont are not altogether unexpected but certainly noteworthy as we continue to build the picture of the fascinating birdlife of our region. No doubt local water levels and food reserves contribute to variation in the timing of breeding.

Black Swans were known as Koonawarra as reported in Trevor Pescott’s ‘Geelong’s Birdlife in Retrospect – A selection of Geelong Advertiser articles by P.J.W 1945-1958 ’. Connewarre, a variant of this name, also used by the local Aboriginal people to denote this engaging bird so Lake Connewarre is aptly named when the many 100s of swans that use it regularly are recalled.  Swan shooting was a popular pastime prior to World War II and local breeding was almost unknown during the peak of this activity.  Cessation of this in the 1930s and the ban on open duck seasons during the War allowed the local populations to build up and local breeding began again. It would be unthinkable now to be without the engaging vision of a pair of diligent parent swans and the procession of downy cygnets in tow on many of our local waterways.

Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoos have been calling from locations such as Lake Connewarre over recent weeks. The GBR confirms that occasional winter birds are recorded from varied habitats. The majority of these glossy brood-parasites utilise the nests other bird species with unwary parents into raising them as their own. The recording rate graphs in the Geelong Bird Report 2013-2016 clearly show that August to November are the main months to record this small bronze-cuckoo, in our region, when their mournful calls can be frequently heard across numerous habitats. And, of course, Fan-tailed Cuckoos have been calling across many parts of the region through June and July as expected per the reporting rate GBR 2013-2016 p72. Pallid Cuckoos are rarely recorded in our region from May to the end of the third week of August so a record of a silent bird in flight, from Point Henry, in July is noteworthy. The reporting rate (GBR 2013-2016 p70) of this species for the Geelong region certainly increases in the last week of August and through November. Hairy caterpillars are a favourite food of this species and the number of records we receive for a season varies significantly one year to the next. Let’s wait and see if the spring-summer of 2020-21 is a ‘big year’ for Pallid Cuckoos.  

Moving to the coast, another theme that has been evident this month is the larger-than-normal numbers of Sooty Oystercatchers seen on the coast between Barwon Heads and Fairhaven. Ten in the Aireys Inlet district and nine at Barwon Heads were most noteworthy. Utilising rocky shores and tidal mudflats, these uniformly dark shorebirds with brilliant red straight bill and legs are more likely in higher numbers further west along the rocky coast beyond Lorne so it was with delight that they have been seen in higher numbers on our more populated coast. There are no breeding records in the GBR 2013-2016 for this species, so diligent observing may pay off. The Sooty Oystercatcher is also known to occasionally pair with the closely related Australian Pied Oystercatcher and Moolap Saltworks is a site where individuals of these two species are sometimes seen associating. While we are on the topic of shorebirds, it is most important to note and acknowledge an extraordinary number of 1500+ Double-banded Plovers recorded on a full survey of Lake Murdeduke. And it’s also interesting to be reminded, with a record of seven at Blue Rocks, that this is a site where Sanderling can gather in higher numbers.  

With some honourable mentions for a White-headed Pigeon at Ocean Grove Nature Reserve an Eastern Barn Owl calling at 4a.m. near Leopold and, at the time of writing, the Pink and Rose Robins showing nicely in the Geelong Botanic Gardens, it is well worth reminding everyone to look over the entire month’s records as many interesting species and behaviours have been noted. And the Geelong Bird Report 2013-2016 can be downloaded as a pdf from https://www.gfnc.org.au/about-us/publications

Thank you to all the observers, at this least 44 in this current crop, who have so keenly and willingly recorded their bird observations.

…John Newman and Craig Morley

Upon reading the current month’s bird observations for the Geelong region there are many highlights to savour. Several themes run through these records this month and it is worth looking at some interesting breeding records and raptor records that have been of particular interest. There are then fascinating smatterings of really unusual bird records to enjoy. It is really worth spending some time reading the details of the records highlighted in this summary.

The wide-ranging collection of observations indicating winter breeding is good evidence that when conditions are right, birds breed. There are numerous records of Australian Magpies and Little Ravens collecting twigs and sticks and flying to high vantage points to begin nest building and refurbishment. In the Breamlea saltmarsh and at Jerringot Wetlands birders are noting, and enjoying, Black Swans on nests incubating eggs or perhaps hatchlings on their elevated mounds built of reeds from the surrounding wetland. Black-shouldered Kites had a demanding juvenile birds with their tell-tale buff-coloured feathers at several sites, including Wingeel, Ombersley and Connewarre. Cape Barren Goose breeding records are notable locally and so numerous recently-fledged young as well as birds on nests at Lara was interesting. Masked Lapwings copulation witnessed this month reminds us that it’s the time of the year when this highly adaptable species breeds.

Many local bird enthusiasts have a great affection for our local raptors and there are numerous records this month of interesting raptor sightings and behaviour.  Sightings of the majestic White-bellied Sea-Eagles are always a highlight, with two resident pairs on the Bellarine Peninsula, so it was of interest that an individual was seen flying west along the coast at Torquay. In a similar way, local Black Falcon records always create excitement so it was pleasing to have a record, from Inverleigh, of this uncommon species.  A young Collared Sparrowhawk, at Bannockburn, was a source of much curiosity for an astonished observer when it spent a prolonged period of time flying through a large flock of White-winged Choughs, perhaps practising hunting skills. Australian Hobbies have been recorded at several locations displaying their wonderful and breath-taking crepuscular hunting technique of surprise approaches, in fading light, after sunset. And we should find room to include a most noteworthy record of a female Little Eagle taking down a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo at Warncoort; a prey item that is rarely recorded for the species (Stephen Debus pers. comm.). https://ebird.org/australia/checklist/S69873863

Winter is the classic seabird watching time with the strong southerly winds bringing the ocean-loving species closer to our coastline. If birders are patient and can withstand the cold blowy conditions, time spent at one of our clifftops or lighthouses can often reveal albatross and other pelagic species. This month we have records of both Brown Skua and Arctic Jaeger from just such a site at Point Lonsdale. It was noteworthy to have records, from several different locations over several days, of exceptional flocks in excess of 1500, of Crested Terns utilising our coast presumably to escape rough weather further out to sea.

A fascinating record, this month, was of two Hooded Plovers seen and photographed at Cundare Pool in the Lake Corangamite system. These birds are exclusively coastal beach inhabitants on our eastern Australian coast so to see birds in this location, more than 50 km from the coast, is nothing short of astonishing. One of the birds was flagged and was identified as a bird bred in the Phillip Island area. It is also interesting to ponder that the Western Australian Hooded Plover subspecies does indeed regularly utilise inland salt lakes some hundreds of km from the coast. These Hooded Plovers are doing reasonably well in those locations, in stark contrast to our coastal birds that are struggling to survive the increasing pressures of beach use by humans and dogs.

Brown Quail are another of the less frequently recorded species for the Geelong region so we were delighted to hear of five birds in damp terrain at Ombersley. The exceedingly small and delicate Southern Emuwren has been documented, this month, at several locations around Anglesea heath and Lake Connewarre sedge-lands.

 A flock of 80 Cattle Egret, in their beautiful white plumage and bright orange beaks, was a wonderful record at Barwon Downs and immense flocks of Little Corellas, at Winchelsea and beyond, in numbers of 2000-3500, have presumably have found a source of food in this agricultural area. Powerful Owl records from the Brisbane Ranges and Anglesea area were very pleasing with May often the month when these magnificent forest owls finding mates and commencing breeding, so it is a good time to listen for their characteristic penetrating call in large forest tracts. Writing of owls, it is most exciting to report on a record of a rarely recorded and poorly understood bird of the region, the Barking Owl, which surely astonished and delighted the observer in the early hours of the morning at Meredith!  A most exciting record and a great way to wrap up our report for June!

Thank you to all the observers, at this least 42 in this current crop, who so keenly and willingly record their bird observations as highlight records to the GFNC web-site: https://www.gfnc.org.au/observations/bird-observations

 or directly as complete or incidental records to eBird Australia: https://ebird.org/australia/region/AU-VIC-GGE?yr=all&m=&rank=lrec

Craig Morley for the GFNC Bird Group

Another eBird Global, this time very local, Big Day has come and gone.

Well done to the many members and friends of the Geelong Field Naturalists Club (GFNC) who participated and contributed within the constraints of the COVID-19 restrictions. It was really pleasing, and encouraging, to see new contributors getting involved. Whether this was the beginning of your eBird journey or the next step, may your use of eBird for bird records, be long and very enjoyable.

Despite our COVID-19 restrictions we gathered together…

 

121 species and123 lists for Greater Geelong:

Please follow each of the links …

https://ebird.org/top100?locInfo.regionCode=AU-VIC-GGE&yr=BIGDAY_2020a

Personally, it was very enjoyable and insightful to see ‘local’ lists coming in from gardens or the local parks or wetlands without them being swamped by ‘early start lists’ from the Western Treatment Plant, Werribee, as would usually happen without COVID-19 restrictions.

68 species and 18 lists for Surf Coast:

https://ebird.org/region/AU-VIC-SUR?yr=BIGDAY_2020a

For Moorabool:

https://ebird.org/region/AU-VIC-MOO?yr=BIGDAY_2020a

For Golden Plains:

https://ebird.org/region/AU-VIC-GOL?yr=BIGDAY_2020a

For the state of Victoria:

https://ebird.org/region/AU-VIC?yr=BIGDAY_2020a&m=&rank=lrec

And the Global total for 9th May 2020 stands at 6,479 species from more than 120,000 lists contributed by 50,072 participants ...

https://ebird.org/australia/news/global-big-day-2020-birdings-biggest-team

Thanks again to all who participated and contributed. It really was most pleasing and heartening to see so many GFNC members and friends involved.

The next opportunity to get out and enjoy an eBird Global Big Day will be in the austral spring in early October when, COVID-19 permitting, we can head out again and enjoy the spring migrants and everything that birding in spring has to offer!

… John Newman and Craig Morley

Bird observers in the Geelong district are scattered over a very wide range of locations and habitats and so we are in the very enviable position of being able to have a monthly view of what birds occur on a regular basis right across our recording area. With most of our movement still being restricted due to the Covid19 containment strategy it is fascinating to see the great diversity of birds that is still being reported.

Swift Parrots are one of only two migratory parrots in the world, the other being our very own Orange-bellied Parrot. Both critically endangered! With loss of breeding habitat in Tasmania and poor flowering in many parts of their historical mainland box-ironbark forests, the Swift Parrot population has been severely depleted and the future is uncertain for this fast flying, stunningly beautiful parrot. The Yellow Gum remnants of Ocean Grove have long been a stopping off point for birds, presumably, as soon as they arrive on the mainland from Tasmania. Though numbers are now worryingly small, they are still seen most years, especially early in the autumn-winter season. Six birds have been observed recently utilising this endemic eucalypt species. Swift Parrots will feed from the nectar laden flowers as well as sugary lerp when it is available. Some years we also have records from the drier Eucalypt country around Anakie, You Yangs and Bannockburn. It will be interesting to see if they use these forests again this year. The wetter coastal forests of New South Wales and even southern Queensland have been more favoured over the past five or so years. Well out of our region, but to add the puzzle of these fascinating birds there is the amazing record of an exhausted adult male which turned up on Lord Howe Island!

It was very interesting to see a single Cattle Egret recorded at Lake Victoria – a first for the species at this location.  And several pairs of Black Swans are reminding us they breed whenever the conditions are right and a pair using an old nest in the Breamlea saltmarsh, where water levels are high, are indicative of this.

A White-fronted Tern at Blue Rocks was a very interesting find and showed the diagnostic ‘zig-zag’ pattern and white line along the top of the folded primaries. Follow this link to the eBird list (you may need to log-in) to see photos of this pattern https://ebird.org/australia/checklist/S69124797 This graceful tern is occasionally seen off our coast over winter and may be seen roosting on sandy and rocky sites such as Point Lonsdale to the east and Apollo Bay and Marengo to the west of our region. This Blue Rocks record, in the company of Crested Terns, reminds us all to carefully scan flocks of roosting terns and gulls for unusual species.

The much anticipated Flame Robins, Golden Whistlers and Gang-gang Cockatoos have been bringing much delight to many observers from varied locations this month and certainly add a splash of colour to what can be otherwise grey days.

Thank you to all the observers who so keenly and willingly record their bird observations as highlight records to the GFNC web-site: https://www.gfnc.org.au/observations/bird-observations

 or directly as complete or incidental records to eBird Australia: https://ebird.org/australia/region/AU-VIC-GGE?yr=all&m=&rank=lrec

John Newman and Craig Morley

It has been several weeks now that Victorians have been largely confined to home when not attending to essential travel as part of our commitment to reducing the health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has proved to be a challenging time for many but for those of us with an interest in birds and natural history it has also offered many insights into what is happening in our own gardens, neighbourhoods and local patches while out exercising.

This time has coincided with the natural timing of much anticipated local bird movement and it is fascinating to see what observers are recording. The GFNC members and friends who submit records are scattered over a wide area living in varied locations so we might expect an accurate snapshot of these local bird movements.

Yellow-faced Honeyeaters and White-naped Honeyeaters are well known for their autumn movement, leaving the wetter higher altitude forests of the Otway Ranges, over the cool winter, and heading to warmer and more open areas around Geelong and along the east coast of Australia and for some possibly as far as northern N.S.W. and perhaps Queensland. The movement is quite complex and does not represent a complete exodus from our area unlike some other migratory species. However the occurrence of both species in suburban Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula/Surf Coast is a much anticipated event at this time of year and it will be fascinating to continue watching and recording in the next few weeks. Noisy and highly mobile flocks of Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, ranging in number from 2-3 to several hundred, have been seen in many suburbs including Highton, Newtown, Geelong West, Mannerim, Ocean Grove, Swan Bay and the Surf Coast, with 600 birds were seen near Bells Beach in typically restless migratory behaviour heading north east along the coast. White-naped Honeyeaters are less numerous in the first few weeks of movement, mostly identified by their different plaintive call, mixed in with their Yellow-faced cousins. As the next few weeks pass watch for the number of Yellow-faced Honeyeaters to reduce in this movement as the number of White-naped Honeyeaters increases.

Eastern Spinebills are another wonderful ‘garden bird’ for many over the autumn and winter and some have already been noted frequenting some gardens and local patches in Breamlea, Jan Juc, Geelong and Highton. More records will, no doubt, be submitted as the weeks progress. The closest honeyeater, in behaviour, we have to a hummingbird these delicate birds in hues of black, white and tan are fast acrobatic fliers and are often seen hovering briefly at Correas and other tubular flowers chasing nectar. They also have a distinctive piping call that will reveal their presence often before they are seen and you can often hear the flick of their wings as they fly away.

Closer to the coast, Galahs and Australian King-Parrots have been seen at a bird feeder making the most of dwindling food reserves at this time of year. Similarly Gang-gang Cockatoos are moving around in their anticipated way in small flocks of up to 20 birds. Enjoying suburban parks and golf courses with large trees has meant many yard and walking birders are enjoying their soft colouring and unique call.

Those birders living in the more rural areas are privy to an increasing presence of Flame Robins this month as the records have indicated. The classic Australian ‘robin red breast’, the sight of glowing male robins on fence lines and perching atop rocks in paddocks is a memorable experience. Equally the soft warm brown hues of the female birds blending in with soil and ploughed paddocks are a sure sign of winter in southern Victoria. Many records have been submitted from various districts across our area.

As always, we have a steady flow of raptor records. People noticing the stealthy movement of Collared Sparrowhawks in suburban areas, with their ambush tactics and a few grateful observers have thoroughly enjoyed cameo appearances from Little Eagle, Swamp Harrier and the lofty and majestic Wedge-tailed Eagles soaring and drifting overhead drifting across suburban areas. A very recent record of a Dusky Woodswallow heading north over suburban Newtown was a thrill. And the Magpie Goose hotspot at Balliang continues to attract the birds and maintains the enthusiasm of a nearby observer.

Try logging-in and searching ‘species maps’ in eBird https://ebird.org/australia/map and add a species name and adjust the date range to learn more.

And the many diligent and careful observers who report their sightings to the GFNC web-site or directly to eBird Australia continue to enrich our picture of the wonderful birds of our region.

…John Newman and Craig Morley

To say that the writing of this edition of the monthly bird summary is occurring in unusual times would be a great understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all of our lives for the time being. It is comforting to consider though that the birds around us, like all of nature, are going about their daily business without any consideration of our own personal turmoil. The planet comprises many more beings than just us and great comfort and joy can be found in continuing to look at what is around us

The submitted records, both on the GFNC web-site and directly to eBird, once more are an astounding list in quantity and diversity covering many aspects of the avifauna of the Geelong region. Here a few highlights show-cased for your enjoyment.

The Geelong Botanic Gardens is a true showpiece of our botanical heritage and design, well used by locals and visitors alike. It has long been known by local birders to have an enviable list of bird species and so in autumn when migratory passerine species are moving from the cooler higher Otways hills. This year we have seen many records of Rufous Fantail, a much sought after bird in such an urban environment. Rose Robin, Satin Flycatcher and a silent Shining Bronze-Cuckoo have also been observed in recent weeks, all exciting and stunning discoveries, at this peaceful and often over-looked botanical and ornithological gem just a kilometre or so from the centre of our major provincial City. The record of the Shining Bronze-Cuckoo is noteworthy in its own right for it is the first record of the species at this location since November 2001. The species was once a brood parasite of the Yellow-rumped Thornbill which was once numerous and widespread in the urban parkland but, over the last decade of the 20th Century, reduced in numbers and distribution. This subsequently led to a major decline in the visits of the Bronze-Cuckoo. You may wish to follow this link to learn more: https://ebird.org/australia/news/37-years-of-counting-building-a-long-term-picture

We have been privileged to have a running commentary on the arrival and behaviour of a phenomenal number of Magpie Geese in Balliang East through March. With numbers peaking at 6,400, a keen and diligent observer has been documenting compelling details about arrival times and flight directions to add great substance to these records of unprecedented numbers. It certainly raises very important questions around where they are coming from and where they are going, both in the short term, on a daily basis and the longer term. It will be fascinating to continue following this story.

Late summer and autumn is always the prime time for seeing White-throated Needletails and numerous records of flocks of more than 100 birds have been reported wheeling around in the warm winds from the Bellarine Peninsula, the Surf Coast and the Otway Ranges.

A relatively new arrival on the Geelong birding scene is the White-headed Pigeon a large attractive bird that until recently only made it into eastern Gippsland.  The past few years have seen an occasional bird arrive in coastal gardens. It certainly would be a great treat to have one of these pigeons turn up at a garden bird-bath.

Writing of the unexpected, in recent weeks we have records of White-faced Storm-Petrels turning up exhausted in unusual places and a young Peregrine Falcon capturing a Little Pied Cormorant provided a stunning sight for some enthralled observers in the Brisbane Ranges.

The submission of numerous Stubble Quail records, including a rare breeding record, to the north of Geelong, have been pleasing and add more insights into our local population over summer and autumn. And the discovery, by one intrepid observer, of 15 Australasian Bitterns at Reedy Lake is astounding and wonderful and the continuing records of Australian Little Bitterns, at Hospital Swamp, are also significant!

Olive Whistlers and Beautiful Firetails are scarce residents of the wetter forests and several records from the Otway Ranges and Anglesea Heath were a treat. Two Great Knots seen at the restricted access Sand Island were noteworthy as records in the past few years are few and far between in keeping with the great crash in the population of this long distance migratory wader.

Once more we thank all the keen and diligent observers who record and submit their sightings.

…John Newman and Craig Morley

The dedication of the Geelong region’s bird observers  to submitting records to the Geelong Field Naturalists Club every month is once more clearly evidenced by the long list of very interesting observations found this month on the Club website. In addition there is the ever growing number of bird-lists from many observers into the eBird Australia database, each month, from across the region. These records cover an amazing array of habitats and locations and give a very good picture of where birds are being seen over the month in which welcome rain has continued. The link to the full list of sightings is below but several species warrant further note.

Last month’s highlights featured news of the rarely recorded Australian Little Bittern being detected by call from Hospital Swamp. This month we have had numerous records of the related Australasian Bittern. A much larger and stockier bird than its diminutive relative, it is none the less a very secretive species that always causes a thrill if seen or heard in our local freshwater wetlands. Australasian Bitterns have a thick neck and streaked brown and buff plumage that blends perfectly with its usual habitat of reeds and tall sedges.  This month has seen numerous birds flushed from shin-deep densely vegetated areas of Reedy Lake. Bursting from the dense vegetation, they fly with slow owl-like wingbeats to a more distant site thankfully giving observers a little more opportunity to enjoy their discovery. They forage in this type of habitat slowly stalking their prey of frogs, eels and other medium-sized aquatic animals. Occasionally these birds wander into brackish wetlands and saltmarsh as recorded at Breamlea several years ago. One record this month was a bird flying silently over Hospital Swamps at dusk while observers were hoping to hear the Australian Little Bittern. The Australasian Bittern is also detected with its deep penetrating “ooohm” call drifting across these sites at night when breeding. Like other bittern species they are well known to thrust their bill skywards if disturbed where their streaked throat blends perfectly with their reedy surrounds.

The February Bird Group presentation, by Andy Bennett, captivated with stories of bird movement into the desert regions when conditions allow for opportunistic breeding. The Banded Stilt was one of the three species studied by Deakin University researchers and after a fairly long absence from our local area, this month has seen numerous Banded Stilt records come in. In complete contrast to the Australasian Bittern, Banded Stilts prefer saline and hypersaline wetlands and so it is not a surprise that Moolap Saltworks and Avalon Saltworks, Lake Victoria, Lake Corangamite and Lake Gnarpurt are some of the favoured sites where birds are first detected  in our region after a, sometimes long, absence. These enigmatic and delicate shorebirds are highly gregarious and are usually seen in flocks of dozens to many hundreds or even thousands feeding on brine shrimp and other invertebrates. They frequently associate with Red-necked Avocets and, to a lesser extent, Pied Stilts. Banded Stilts are basically white with a fine very straight black bill and black wings with pink legs. A beautiful chestnut breast band develops but is absent on juveniles or non-breeding birds. It is a truly stunning sight to see a highly mobile flock actively foraging across a shallow wetland or a densely packed flock of many hundreds of birds wheeling about overhead..

Please visit the GFNC web-site at https://www.gfnc.org.au/observations/bird-observations

And please continue to add your complete lists and incidental records to https://ebird.org/australia/region/AU-VIC-GGE?yr=all

…John Newman and Craig Morley

This edition of our bird notes covers the December 2019 and current January 2020 time period and highlights some wonderful and unusual records for our local Bellarine and Surf Coast area.

Many of our larger wetlands have held water quite well over the summer and Hospital Swamp was a great example. Earlier in the summer several of the saltmarsh ponds were regularly surveyed and keen eyes found two very unusual birds. A Ruff, so named because of the elaborate neck feathering of the breeding male on their arctic breeding grounds, was seen and a rare Eastern Yellow Wagtail was also seen at the same pond. Ruffs are a migratory shorebird that only rarely reaches southern Australia. It is ten years since the species was seen at Moolap Saltworks and Reedy Lake. This bird was seen by several observers and, most unexpectedly, an Eastern Yellow Wagtail, a vagrant to south-eastern Australia, popped onto an adjacent fence-post as some observers were admiring the Ruff! A photo was taken and both species were later seen by other lucky observers before the Wagtail slipped away as cryptically as it arrived. Many observers from far and wide visited looking for both birds with little success.

One or two Pectoral Sandpipers were also seen in the same wetland complex around this time, another one of our less frequently observed and recorded migratory waders that can appear when conditions are good. Some weeks later, a dusk trip to the western end of Hospital Swamp revealed a calling Australian Little Bittern, another rarely recorded species in our area. Its characteristic call was noted and later confirmed by other observers frequenting the same site at dusk. Australasian Bitterns have been heard and seen in Reedy Lake and Hospital Swamp in recent months once more emphasising the importance of these wetlands in our region.

The Little Egret colony, which has developed in recent years, at Queenscliff has been successful, though for a lower number of birds nesting through this 2019-2020 summer. These Little Egrets nest in the public park and we hope their success will continue and grow as Little Egret breeding colonies are extremely rare and this is probably the only one in Victoria. The warm summer winds, with following cool changes and storm-fronts, have brought a wonderful array of records of both Pacific Swifts and White-throated Needletails as they hunt for insects high in the sky.

Good records from the Otway Ranges remind us of the need to keep surveying our local tall wet forests as they will prove to be important wildlife refuges as the climate warms and the area dries. Breeding Rose Robins were an Otway treat and a rarely recorded phenomenon. Song Thrushes have become scarce, in urban and suburban areas, in recent years and so several birds, including 1 carrying food, in the Redwood forest was of great interest. It is interesting to note the presence of this species in areas of the Otway Ranges and it would be interesting to keep an eye out and record this species wherever possible with notes on their behaviour – are they feasting on the carnivorous Otway Black Snail? Records of the Australian Masked-Owl are few and far between in the Geelong region, and more usually from the deep in the Otway forest, so a well-documented record from Balliang was most remarkable and important. Writing of species less frequently recorded in the Geelong region it is pleasing to have recently received two separate records of Painted Buttonquail from the You Yangs area in recent months – another species in possible decline in our region. Please keep an eye out and report any sightings.

With sincere thanks to all the observers who have willingly and keenly provided their records of observations to the GFNC web-site https://www.gfnc.org.au/observations/bird-observations or directly to eBird Australia. We encourage everyone to submit their records as we continue to learn about the fabulous birds of our region. Please follow this link https://ebird.org/australia/map log-in and zoom in on the Geelong region, and perhaps refine the date range, to search for the species that may interest you!
 

John Newman and Craig Morley

As late spring (October-November) comes to a close it is interesting to again consider the records of birdlife submitted over recent weeks of unusual weather – with many cold days and even colder winds visiting us we have also had some extreme heat and wind all of which has influenced the tremendous array of birds recorded.

October saw a celebration of migratory birds drifting south from the dry Australian interior to our wetter coastal strip. This month more have arrived and if one bird characterises this October-November time-frame it would be the White-winged Triller. Whilst in most years we have some records from our drier northern woodland fringe, this year the triller has been seen in many suburban and  rural zones and has been a ‘new  bird’ for numerous back garden lists. Hopefully with so many skilful and sharp-eyed observers we will have breeding records in coming weeks.

The recent very hot strong winds followed by blustery cool changes saw several much anticipated Pacific Swift records over Barwon Heads and Ocean Grove and White-browed Woodswallows were seen in the strong winds  over Highton and Geelong City.  This endearing species was also seen at Inverleigh investigating the dry woodland. It is likely that there would have been, at least, low numbers of Masked Woodswallows in some of the high flying flocks. Sacred Kingfishers have been seen in the Otways, along the Barwon River and at Meredith and Brown Songlarks have also been seen in several open areas around Geelong, given away by their memorable ‘rusty cart wheel’ call.

The evocative yet monotonous calls of the Pacific Koel continue to drift across Highton and there are almost certainly several birds present. Highton and surrounding areas have become the reliable home for this species over several years now. A  Little Lorikeet in Ocean Grove was an interesting record and the cryptic Chestnut-rumped Heathwren is more obvious in spring when they are calling, as one was on a calm sunny morning at Moggs Creek. Blue-winged Parrots were probably breeding in a low hollow near the Heathwren and another Blue-winged Parrot was seen in Beeac.

Wetlands are still holding water early in the summer season and it was great to see many Spotless Crake records from Balyang and Jerringot. A Baillon’s Crake at a farm dam was a thrill. Lake Modewarre is home to numerous shorebirds and a lone Double-banded Plover and a small group of Bar-tailed Godwits was noteworthy. Black- tailed Nativehen only tend to be seen in any numbers after a good breeding season and so several records from different wetland locations was pleasing. Glossy Ibis continue to roam the district with up to 23 birds seen along the various Barwon River wetlands, swelling to a group of 100 at Hospital Swamp late in November. Low numbers of Latham’s Snipe at several locations have been recorded and the often sought Sanderling has been seen at Blue Rocks. And at least a low number of Pink-eared Ducks flying over Newtown, on a still moonless night, uttering their evocative chuckling and chortling calls indicates that things in the world of nature are always changing!

With many thanks to the bird watchers who take the time to observe and then submit their fascinating records to the GFNC web-site and/or eBird Australia so we can all enjoy what is happening around us as the seasons change, building the picture of changes over time in our local avifauna. Long may this continue.

…John Newman and Craig Morley

What a wonderful array of bird records have been submitted to the Geelong Field Naturalists Club observations website this month or directly to eBird Australia. The clear theme this month is bird migration and an enormous number of interesting migratory birds have turned up on our doorstep and are worthy of comment. The alarmingly dry conditions in NSW and Qld have presumably pushed birds further south, in higher numbers, than we see most years.

Olive-backed Orioles have a very distinct ringing call that is easily heard in woodland and records have begun for this season from Paraparap, Aireys Inlet, Gum Flat and Inverleigh.  Similarly, other woodland species have been excitedly recorded with White-browed and Masked Woodswallows. They are often detected calling high in the sky on warm blowy days or seen in noisy flocks in drier woodlands. Hopefully we will find many breeding pairs as the spring and summer progress. White-browed Woodswallows have been seen in the Brisbane Ranges, Inverleigh, You Yangs and up to 200 at Bannockburn. These drier woodlands are often strongholds for these beautiful birds over summer. Masked Woodswallow are almost always seen in lower numbers than the closely related White-browed on this eastern side of Australia and this is certainly the case with lower proportions noted in these locations.

A few Sacred Kingfishers have been found already in our region with single birds at Eastern Park, Avalon and Deakin University at Waurn Ponds.  A Brush Cuckoo is always a sought after migratory bird in southern Australia but with a clear repetitive call, one has been seen and photographed at Anglesea.  A large flock of twenty Swift Parrots at Ocean Grove was a real thrill at the end of the mainland season before they migrate across Bass Strait to Tasmania for summer breeding.

Many woodland birds have been attracting attention all over Victoria this spring and we have had our share of interesting sighting. White-winged Trillers are seen in low numbers over most, but not all, summers in the Geelong district but this year there are many birds in widespread locations. Swan Island, Fyansford, Edwards Point and Barwon Downs were all noted early on with up to 7 birds, usually in flocks of males and females. Avalon, Hamlyn Heights, North Geelong, Hospital Swamp and Reedy Lake joined the list by the end of the month.

Brown Songlarks and Rufous Songlarks have been seen and heard in grasslands around Avalon and Swan Bay farmland and it is likely more will be detected as the weeks roll by. These fabulous songsters give an array of ventriloqual song and twangy metallic notes that delight the observer. Australasian Bushlark, sometimes under reported around Geelong, have been seen in the company of the Songlarks. A very large flock of Stubble Quail at Avalon was a great find.

Perhaps the standout sighting for this month was a remarkable Square-tailed Kite seen over Ocean Grove by a very experienced observer. This breathtaking raptor is very rarely seen in our district. It is of great interest that a Square-tailed Kite was also seen on the other side of Port Phillip a week later.

Shorebirds and waterbirds have also been seen in increasing numbers indicating the return of migratory birds. Latham’s Snipe are back with sixty-five birds seen at Begola Wetlands in Collendina during the September Latham’s Snipe Survey.  Several Sanderlings at Blue Rocks were a thrill as were the small number of Pacific Golden Plovers seen there. Edwards Point proved the place to be for one hundred or more Bar-tailed Godwits and a Common Sandpiper on the Otway Coast at Barham River was a good find.

Whiskered Terns are back for the spring and summer with so far small numbers at Pt Henry, Swan Bay Jetty and Breamlea saltmarsh. The same jetty was a resting site for a Gull-billed Tern which is unusual on our coast. A White-bellied Sea-Eagle at Buckley was unusual away from the coast but these magnificent birds are known to utilise larger inlands lakes which are abundant in western Victoria.

Once more we thank the observers who take the time to submit their fascinating records to the club database and/or directly to eBird Australia. These records continue to captivate and inform us as the season changes thereby building a picture of changes in our local avifauna over the longer term.