By Steve Waller
Huh! What care we for the wintry gales!
What care we for the rain and hail!
We’re all hankering after birds!
Us prefer coffee?
Peter Bennet coined this inspiring rhyme as a headline in his advance email about the May outing. Maybe such prophetic words put the weather god’s backs up? Who knows… but most of our group arrived in Crofton Street (Williamstown) as rain fell from a dark grey sky. We huddled together drinking thermos tea, putting waterproof covers on cameras, and peering hopefully out at the horizon from under our raised vehicle hatchbacks. Finally, some intrepid soul suggested we start, and after the briefing huddle, we trundled out onto the Jawbone foreshore.
Jawbone is part of a chain of wetland, mangrove, grassland and recreational reserves that extend from Williamstown to Point Cook. Jawbone itself is immediately adjacent to Williamstown. It is roughly 8 km from the CBD and has a bird list of some 186 species (eBird).
As we started walking, almost miraculously the rain cleared rapidly to a bright morning. We walked along the series of lakes and wetlands, noting good numbers of the usual avian suspects: Eurasian Coots, Dusky Morehen, Chestnut Teal, with a smattering of Australasian and Hoary-headed Grebes. A highlight of the first lake was the sighting of Great Crested Grebes with their elaborate hairdos and elegant deportment.
Larger-then-normal numbers of Blue-billed and Musk Ducks were also noted in this location. In the trees lining the lake banks, Singing, White-plumed and New Holland Honeyeaters were spotted and photographed, while the littoral reedbeds yielded Superb Fairywrens, Golden-headed Cisticolas, and lots of House Sparrows.
Walking along the chain of lakes, people clicked away at a female black swan feeding with two late-season cygnets. All the while enjoying the abundance of other birdlife: Great, Little Pied & Little Black Cormorants; and, Chestnut and Grey Teal. At this point a juvenile Black Shouldered Kite flew overhead, and in distant mangrove channels Black-fronted Dotterels could be observed foraging.
Then we all went bush!
The group veered off on a rough trail through some coastal thickets and onto the rocky beach itself. A expansive view across the Bay could be had and this revealed startling numbers of shorebirds: quadzillions of Silver Gulls of course; but, also Pacific Gulls; Australian Pelicans; Black Swans; Royal Spoonbills and even Little Ravens. These along with large numbers of assorted Cormorants, including some uncommon Pied Cormorants. Surprisingly, there were large aggregations, numbering in the hundreds, of Hoary-headed Grebes. Pied Oystercatchers were seen, but were uncommon, as were the Crested Terns.
Satiated with the opportunities to observe and photograph such a diversity of shorebirds we doubled back along the Bay Trail. First to a boardwalk out along a nearby point passing through an area of littoral mangroves and Samphire flats. This proved a highly productive spot as the group got good views and shots of the highly reclusive Spotted Crake. Red-browed Finches, Musk Lorikeets, Masked Lapwings and Singing Honeyeaters were also observed in this area. A Nankeen Kestrel hunting along the shore provided an exciting farewell to some as we trudged back to the cars and travelled to our second location: Newport Lakes and lunch.
Having had lunch and completed the bird call from Jawbone, the group headed into the Newport Lakes Reserve. Newport lakes is a 33ha reserve in the middle of Altona. Over several decades it has been revegetated with some 200 species of native plant and has a bird list of around 165 species. It is a former bluestone (basalt) quarry and is centered around quarry excavations that have since been landscaped and filled with water.
Unfortunately, on the day we visited, the birdlife was rather quiet. Several Spotted Pardalotes and Little Ravens were seen from the carpark during lunch. However, Red Wattlebirds, New Holland and White-plumed Honeyeaters, and Noisy Miners made up the bulk of bird sightings within the reserve. On the lakes were both Australasian and Hoary-headed Grebes, Dusky Moorhens, Eurasian Coots, and a couple of Pacific Black Ducks, while along the lake edge both Spotted and Spotless Crakes were active in the reedbeds. Red-browed Finches and Superb Fairywrens were also observed feeding in these habitats.
Many of the eucalypts in the reserve were flowering profusely, attracting a range of honeyeaters as well as Rainbow and Musk Lorikeets. Common Blackbirds, White-browed Scrubwrens, and Brown Thornbills were observed in these trees and Grey Butcherbirds were heard on several occasions.
After a couple of enjoyable hours of birding, the group assembled in the carpark for the final bird call. It was still sunny and warm and everyone agreed it had been a great day’s birding. From Jawbone we had recorded some 58 species in all, with 36 species from Newport Lakes. The fine conditions and attractive surrounds had allowed good photographic opportunities, the results of which can be seen throughout this blog. Again, many thanks to Peter Bennet and John van Doorn who scoped out and organised this very enjoyable outing in May.