Craigieburn Grasslands (Galgi Ngarrk) and Yan Yean – March 2021

By Steve Waller

It promised to be the most perfect morning. At the end of Ohern’s Road Cragieburn, the crowd of excited long lenses and digital cameras swirled excitedly around their chattering owners. Beyond this group Craigieburn Nature Reserve itself stretched toward the horizon. Its rich autumn tones of ripe native grasses, exotic woody weeds and plentiful birdlife awaited under a blue-vaulted sky.  The group eagerly anticipated a rich photographic harvest of scintillating Cisticolas, titillating Thornbills, even a Quail or two, and raptors without end. All of this and more, if only we could finally get everyone to the right meeting spot!

Common Greenfinch – Michiko Iida

The group waited patiently. Those that were lost (or simply confused by the misinformation on Oherns Road in Google Maps) were driving in circles of steadily decreasing diameter guided by Peter Bennet’s expert directions over the phone. Finally just past 9am we all assembled, completed the roll, and headed out into the Grassland.

Zebra Finch – Steve Waller

Galgi Ngarrk is the name given by the Wurunjuri people to the Nature Reserve also known as Cragieburn Grasslands. It means ‘backbone’, indicating its central position in the string of parklands along the Merri creek, collectively called ‘Marran Baba’ (body of mother).

Whistling Kite – Diane Peters

Heading east from Ohern’s Road, the by-now rather strung out group crossed the Merri Creek and toiled up a stony slope to the Grasslands proper. A few branched north at this point to pick up any water birds using the creek.

Grey Shrike-thrush – Peter Bennet

Up the top, there was immediately some avian action. The first of many Zebra and Red-browed finches were spotted along with a distant flock of Eastern Rosellas. At this point, a Brolga sighting (unconfirmed) on the creek bank galvanised the waiting photographers. Almost immediately it took off and peeled away southwards leaving those slow off the photographic mark wondering what might have been.

Zebra Finch – MIchiko Iida

Not long after, a smaller group turned north along some grassland regenerating after a recent fire. While easier walking, it did not turn out to be overly productive in the avian sense. However, this area did provide the only raptor sightings – a Brown Falcon and Brown Goshawk. It also turned up a new record for the Grasslands – the positive sighting of a Grey Shrikethrush. Of interest also was the sighting of a single Australasian Pipit. White-Faced Herons, Chestnut and Grey Teal, Pacific Black Ducks were present down by the creek, while a Little Grassbird was heard as well.

Dusky Moorhen – Ray St James

The other group patrolled the sides of Curly Sedge Creek, a West-flowing tributary of Merri Creek. The open grassland with occasional copses of trees provided sightings of New Holland Honeyeaters, more Eastern Rosellas, the usual assortment of finches and a cornucopia of Thornbills: Brown; Striated; Yellow; and, Yellow-Rumped were seen. The bright flashes of yellow tails as the latter flew off bringing to mind their colloquial name of ‘butterbums’. Golden-headed Cisticolas were common here, and on the way back to the car a pair (or is it a brace?) of Brown Quail were flushed from the grass. 

Silvereye – Peter Bennet

Arriving back at the car, the preliminary bird count stretched to some 50 species. Not a bad effort. Anticipating lunch at Yan Yean Reservoir the party performed a more focused getaway, abandoning the expansive reaches of Galgi Ngarrk for the altogether more watery surrounds of Yan Yean Reservoir.

Chestnut Teal – John Van Doorn

By the time of lunch the bright sunlight of the morning was quickly turning to high cloud. Gathering under a friendly eucalypt, lunch was had in convivial fashion before heading along the dam wall towards the top lookout. A series of small and thickly-vegetated ponds below the dam wall yielded some interesting sightings: a mother Australasian Grebe with 4 chicks; Musk Lorikeets; and, a pair of Golden Whistlers. Circling overhead were several Australian Pelicans, White, and Straw-necked, Ibises.

Musk Duck – Steve Waller

The slopes of the lookout provided good opportunities for improving duck identification skills. Even through binoculars, large numbers of waterbirds were just black dots. However, Musk ducks (both adult and juvenile) were close enough for a positive ID, as were Hardheads, Black Swans and the usual assemblage of Eurasian Coots, Grey teal, Chestnut Teal and Pacific Black Ducks. However, the cormorants and egrets on the nearby shore provoked the most discussion. Unable to see over or through the boundary fencing generated an unseemly to and fro regarding exactly what birds were there. The final result (at the risk of reopening old wounds) was confirmed as a group of Little Black Cormorants, a few Little Pied Cormorants and a Great Egret or two (I think).

Great Egret – Steve Hoptroff

The group was moving upslope towards the top lookout toilets when the raptor ‘event’ of the day exploded. It began with an observation of a Peregrine Falcon chasing a Great Egret by a nearby non-group bird photographer. None of us observed that interaction. However, while we were admiring his photos, an adult and juvenile White-bellied Sea Eagle were sighted high over the reservoir. Next, in the same vicinity a Whistling Kite and a Wedge-tailed Eagle also appeared and we had good views as all circled overhead.

Nankeen Night Heron – Diane Peters

As the raptors spiralled out of view, our group moved in search of more photograph-able prey. A well known and nearby pine tree full of Nankeen Night Herons proved to be just the thing. Easily within telephoto range, basically stationary, yet somehow regal and other-wordly, these Herons provided the swan-song to a great day. The presence of a sleeping fledged juvenile was a highlight. Its brown spotted plumage so unlike the adult but yet perfectly camouflaged.

Sponsored Post Learn from the experts: Create a successful blog with our brand new courseThe WordPress.com Blog

WordPress.com is excited to announce our newest offering: a course just for beginning bloggers where you’ll learn everything you need to know about blogging from the most trusted experts in the industry. We have helped millions of blogs get up and running, we know what works, and we want you to to know everything we know. This course provides all the fundamental skills and inspiration you need to get your blog started, an interactive community forum, and content updated annually.

Point Cook and Skeleton Creek Boardwalk – February 2021

Phil Marley

It was a relief just to be able to go on our first outing for the year – we had been in a ‘short, sharp circuit-breaker’ COVID-19 lockdown only three days before. Somehow it felt like we had earned this outing. And, being the responsible folk we are, the group self-regulated so that 19 turned up, under the new 20 person limit for outdoor gatherings.

Satin Flycatcher - Stephen Garth

Satin Flycatcher – Stephen Garth

We met at the carpark close to the Tower – and headed off into rain. Light rain admittedly, but it lasted about half an hour, just enough to ensure we were properly wet. Unfortunately our group coordinator Peter, with his direct line to the rain gods, was unable to be with us this time and his absence had immediate impact. The birds were not too impressed by the rain either – we saw almost none for the first hour or so, just Little Ravens, Magpies and Larks.

Little Raven and Australian Magpie - Phil Marley

Australian Magpie, Magpie Lark  and Little Raven – Phil Marley

On reaching the Tower (a monument to migration and aspiration), we headed south down the coastal track. And then we started getting excited. First up Striated Fieldwrens hopped onto bushtops and started singing. Not to be outdone, Golden-headed Cisticolas did the same. And on the coast, a Brolga was also stirred into action – mainly flying away from us, but a good sighting nonetheless.

Silvereye - Stephen Garth

Silvereye – Stephen Garth

Out on the bay, an Australasian Gannet put in some diving practice, while a flock of 13 White-faced Herons flew past nonchalantly. A pair of Pacific Gulls thought flying and diving were too much like hard work, so just floated on the water, but a couple of Crested Terns and Pied and Little Pied Cormorants were up for a fly-over.

Pied Cormorant-Stephen Garth

Pied Cormorant-Stephen Garth

Rounding Point Cook and heading for the Homestead, the weather improved to sunny and our bird fortunes picked up too. We encountered New Holland and White-plumed Honeyeaters, lots of Superb Fairy-wrens and some White-browed Scrubwrens and Grey Fantails.

Australian Magpie - Stephen Garth

Australian Magpie – Stephen Garth

But the star attraction was a female Satin Flycatcher that lingered for 30 minutes in the treetops in front of our whole paparazzi pack. Based on sightings of the female, we first thought it was a Leaden Flycatcher, but a return visit by one of the group later in the day found a male that was clearly a Satin, together with the female.

White-faced Heron - Michiko Iida

White-faced Heron – Michiko Iida

The excitement carried us through to lunch at the beach picnic area, following by an hour’s stroll in the coastal scrub. Singing Honeyeaters, Yellow-rumped Thornbills, Crested Pigeons, European Goldfinches and another Satin Flycatcher were good additions. And a Whistling Kite – the only raptor firmly identified on the day.

Australasian Grebe - Phil Marley

Australasian Grebe – Phil Marley

Next stop was the lake north of the RAAF Lookout Carpark on Main Drive. This was a new location for many – and offered lots of Little Grassbird calls and good views of Cisticolas, Australian Reed Warblers and a family of Australasian Grebes (two adults with four chicks). And also a thirsty flock of Zebra Finch, which came in for a drink just five meters from our group and stayed long enough for everyone to get some shots.

Zebra Finch - John Van Doorn

Zebra Finch – John Van Doorn

Three of the group ventured on to the Skeleton Creek Boardwalk for a late afternoon stop on the way home. The most notable finds were some Little Black Cormorants sitting in a row on overhead powerlines and a solitary Common Sandpiper walking along the edge of the creek, bobbing its tail.

Tiger Moth - Michiko Iida

Tiger Moth – Michiko Iida

With 54 species for Point Cook and 27 at the Boardwalk, the day was a great success and an excellent start to what we hope will be a full year of activities. COVID-permitting.

Bird List Point Cook Feb2021