My local bird group, BirdLife Werribee, or more affectionately known by the previous name, “Werribee Wagtails” has for many years been doing bird surveys once a quarter at various sites.
This weekend we surveyed the Mt Rothwell Conservation and Research Centre just to the north of the You Yangs range.
To quote Peter Sellers from “Balham Gateway to the South”,
—It is exciting work and my forefathers have been engaged upon it since 1957—
The previous few days of rain had managed to get past the You Yangs rainshadow and give the area decent drink. As we assembled, we were joined by a group from BirdLife Australia, Ovens and Murray.
And the bush seemed to respond to our enthusiastic banter as we walked over the various tracks that lead through the park.
To say we’ve had a run of weather of late would be to guild the lily somewhat. Lack of sunshine, and howling southerly winds have been much more the norm. Add to that the best of fast moving squalls with intense rain, and well, its enough to make you roll over and pull the donnah up even closer.
So with a touch of sunshine peeking through the breakfast room window, EE and I decided on a quick trip to The Office. Image our surprise when we found Mr An Onymous out there as well. Put it down to the call of the Osprey. However she wasn’t in residence so we had to content ourselves with lesser subjects.
When it comes to nesting and bringing on a new clutch, Willie Wagtails seem to go from one extreme to another, in more ways than one.
The weather can take a turn and dash the plans of quite a number of nesting pairs. And around the Werribee River area at the Office, they all seem to start within a day or two of each other and a change of weather takes out most of the nests. That has happened once already this season.
Plucky little birds, just shake off the wet feathers, take a wagtail deep breath and start again.
The Werribee BirdLife group had their monthly outing yesterday and visited the Western Treatment Plant.
The weather has been predicted to be sunny and hot, so it was with a touch of bemusement that we headed off down the highway in the fog!
But it did give us a lovely cool morning, so the sulking photographer in me just had to make do for awhile.
Travelling with the Wagtails (Werribee Birdlife in a former name), is a fun experience. There is a great deal of knowledge of the birds, and the area, and the social activity makes for a fun filled and well fed day.
We went down to the T Section, an area that is fast taking on hero status as a Red Phalarope has come down to visit over. Perhaps to the uninitiated a bit hard to spot, but once seen the frenetic activity of the bird makes it reasonably easy to locate. And especially if the tour leader. (D Torr esq.) lines it up in the spotting scope at the start of the activity.
We’ve been up around the Newstead area this past week. Went up for the annual Werribee Birdlife (Formerly Werribee Wagtails) camp out.
On one afternoon in the RIse and Shine Bushland area we were quietly travelling through the forest, when I was pretty sure I’d heard the familiar “Peter, Peter Peter” of Jacky.
So we stopped and eventually I reckoned it about 500mm further down so we went to look. No doubt about it, a Jacky Winter, and quite vocal, and very busy. The EE spotted a pattern of flying into one tree, and a few minutes later announced, like some magician about to pull a rabbit from a hat. “Look, she is building a nest!”.
Now of course you have got to have seen a Jacky Winter nest before to have any idea what you are looking for. Mr An Onymous who was with us peered into the trees, scratched his head, got out his ever dependable Nikon binos and looked again. “Where?” Which is a pretty good question as Jacky doesn’t exactly go in for high class up market building. If there was one of those ‘reality building’ shows for birds she’d be among the bottom of the backyards.
And there on a tiny Y in branch was an almost imperceptible bulge. And pretty soon Jacky confirmed that by adding some more spider web to hold it all together.
Formerly called Werribee Wagtails, Birdlife Werribee had a day at the Western Treatment Plant. Stories about that event and a few others are available in the Werribee Wag Tales Newsletter for download here, or from the Wagtails tab on the front page.
Werribee Wagtails meet once a month on the first Tuesday of said months. They are a really dedicated group of birdwatchers and we find ourselves well pleased to have become part of the mob.
For March the trip was by Community Bus down to Geelong and beyond. So we arrived at the meeting spot ready to go. Now the bus had been booked out and we had chosen instead to convey down in the traditional spirit of motoring. However some bookees had not taken up the opportunity and so we found ourselves loading food, chairs, cameras and bodies onto the bus.
The first stop was to be Queen’s Park, and a walk along the River to the Balyang Sanctuary. Last seasons, thanks to me mate Helmut of Flickr fame, we had a couple of trips down there to find the Darters nesting next to the bridge. Our original plan, sans bus, was to go directly there and wait for the walkers to turn up. So we sat on the bus as everyone unloaded and despite clever arguments about Tawny Frogmouth, and Gang-Gangs, we stuck to the plan. With a “swish” the door closed and our driver took us to the next carpark.
The weather was offering some good sunshine so it was likely that we’d get some great shots; and we did. Top must be for the mother Darter, whose first two young had just hatched. These scrawny looking featherless creatures had her full attention, and while the nest is quite large, one can only imagine the complexity of moving those big webbed feet of hers around without damaging her newly hatched and yet to be hatched off -spring.
Not knowing much about the habits of Darters, I was pretty amazed to find that both male and female incubate and feed the young. But the male is the hard worker on building the nest. At least to providing all the necessary sticks and things to make the nest. As it turned out on this trip, one male was busy on the apartment above, moving sticks in to position.
Where all this happens is within a stone’s throw, (probably OHS insensitive), so 26.498 metres from the edge of the main traffic bridge over the Barwon River. This bridge carries a flow of heavy duty vehicles and the bridge moves as they thunder over it, it also has a constant stream of joggers, cyclists, walkers, babystollers and group exercisers. Which all means that the poor old stationary photographer is being jostled and ‘ding’ed at on the narrow walkway. But, the birds don’t seem to care.
Pointing the lens at the darters on their nests brings comments such as “Oh, what are they?” “How long have they been there?” “I’ve lived in the area for x years and I’ve never seen them before”. “What are you going to use the pictures for?” “That’s a big lens, do you need a permit for it?” and of course the inevitable, “What do you think you’re doing?” But the best of the day was from the groupathon bike riders. “We’re strange birds, take our picture!”
Just as the bus driver was warming up the bus, a mother Darter came in with a snack for one of the kids. Lots of wing waving and head bobbing as she positioned herself and the lucky young chick to receive the treat. And then it was back on the bus, and Hi Ho Silver, away. We went on toward Barwon Heads to look for waders and water birds.
After a lunch under a spreading tree with the breeze pleasingly blowing through the shade it was a bit hard to get going for an afternoon foray for birds. And then. A bird count of 63 for the day, and we were back in the bus on the way home.
Coffee at the local and a pleasant day drew to a close.
The Werribee Wagtails group met at Altona for a look at the shore, the river, and the lake.
So off we went. Weather was fine, company was excellent and we made a few finds and discoveries along the way.
All ready for a great day out and about, members of Werribee Wagtails on the track.
Always full of excitement the New-Holland Honeyeaters seem to own every bush and shrub along the waterway.
Sharptailed Sandpipers at work in a drain. The top bird is starting to show some chest colour, getting ready for the long journey north.
Common Greenshanks. I’m alway amused by the “Common” moniker. Does it mean there are “uncommon Greenshanks”, or perhaps “Special, or Important” greenshanks?
Along Kororoit Creek we found a number of numbered Swans. The programme is run by the guys at Myswan Database, and I’ve even got some info in the Albums area of another one we followed for awhile.
Teals take advantage of a convenient roosting place.
Spotting along the Kororiot Creek. EE is obviously on to something.
J28, another numbered Swan from the series.
Here is the details from the Database.
J28 even has her own passport. The white collars are female, the black collars are male.
The red spots on the map indicate she spends a lot of time in the area.
View across the lake at Newport Lakes, after years of hard work the area has developed into a great bird habitat. Spot the Australasian Darter. For bonus points, spot the Nankeen Night Heron.
Closeup of said Darter and a cormorant friend.
Oh, there you are! Nankeen Night Heron pretending to be somewhere else. I spotted the colours as we were walking down the track to catchup to the group. (yes, I’d done it again) and didn’t take any time to check it out. (See my tardiness in the Mt Rothwell blog report.)
But when everyone had settled on a view, I went back for a closer look.
Heading homewards across the stepping stones over the lake. A good day. Extra points for Spotting Mr An Onymous. (but then he wouldn’t be would he?)
One of the nice new pleasures we get from being in the area is to catch up with the Werribee Wagtails birding group.
They have a number of projects for bird counting and one them is at Mt Rothwell.
So we followed the roads out the back of Little River and met up with the eager bird counters.
Mt Rothwell is near the excellent You Yangs and is a fully enclosed area so there are some heavy duty gates to get through before the serious counting begins.
On this day, however there was a wonderful strong breeze at work, and it was the first really cool day after the heat so the big birds were up in numbers all looking to catchup on their dietary requirements.
The area also has a very strong educational programme and there are some great walking tracks covering the area which is mostly light scrub, trees and some great rolling hills with lots of boulders and rocky outcrops.
So we set off. I got side tracked by a Striated Pardalote, and spent about 10 minutes photographing it, and by the time I’d gotten back on the track. Well, the count and counters had moved on. Easy enough, just go along the track thought I. Till I came to a Y in the road. Always take the ‘right’ one is the advice I’ve worked with over the years. Not always good advice and in this case dead wrong. After about 10 minutes I came to an open field and looking along the track not a counter to be seen. Wrong track I thought. So a bit of bush bashing got me across to the ‘right’ left track, and no sign of said counters.
After a bit of scouting about, I found that Arthur had left an “Arrow” of sticks at the next junction, and from there it was walk fast until I caught up. But, the track swept around to the right, and I figured the track had to sweep back again. Remember its a fenced off area. Easy said I. Over the top of the rise in front of me, stand on the top of a rock and they should be visible. So saying I did. And. Yep, there they were way over there. More scrub work.
Needless to say EE was not to happy with my tardiness, and I think I got a black mark on my name from the walk leader who was getting a bit concerned about having to ‘find’ said missing dude.
No more Pardalotes for me for the rest of the day.
With the strong wind running the raptors, which include, Whistling Kites, Black Kites, Brown Falcons, Little Eagles and Australian Kestrels, were in their element. Such a great site to see so many soaring birds. And I didn’t have to get misplaced to see them.
In the afternoon we walked the opposite side of the park and came to a large open field. “Hmm,” said I, “I’ve been here already once earlier today!”
Now that we’ve made the move, some things get a bit easier.
The Werribee Wagtails are an informal group of birders amalgamated with Birdlife Australia. They have a monthly day out and about, and we’ve taken to tagging along.
This particular day was Jan 7th. And the area covered included the mouth of the Werribee River at Werribee South. Very cold in the morning with icy winds blowing over the water. Still we managed a good range of water birds including a Red-capped Plover scampering back and forth among the seaweeds.
A truly wonderful place called “The Cliffs” at a right angle bend in K Road, opened up to wonderful vistas across the river, and a range of beautiful birds.
From there a trip to a special carpark at Werribee Mansion, and a lovely walk down to the river flats and back through the vegetable and fruit gardens on the flats. And we found about 8-10 young Whistling Kites and a similar number of Black Kites who were working along the river.
I’d go back again just for that.
In one of the river crossing we found some Purple-headed, Musk, and Rainbow Lorikeets, one of the Rainbows appeared to have a nest. Or was raiding someone else’s. To top it off the “Kee, Kee Kee, kee” of a Sacred Kingfisher who sped by us with a couple of flybys.
Then on to the Cache Coffee shop and produce Store. If you are in the area, include this great place for great food and coffee, and amazing local produce. Another reason I’m happy we’re local.